Myrsine: Flowers & Fruits

The myrsine trees near the coastal wetlands at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) were full of flowers and fruits when a small group of volunteers from the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory Volunteer Nature Stewardship program took a walk there on January 2, 2021.

Myrsine flowers and fruits throughout the year peaking in the fall/winter. Flowering and fruiting occurs on the often curved stems of myrsine (caulifolory) – sometimes simultaneously. Flowers that are held along the stems invite pollination by crawling (not flying) insects, lizards, and small mammals (i.e., rodents and birds) that “walk” along the stems. Flying pollinators never seem to visit its flowers.

Myrsine is dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate plants), and wind is thought to play a role in the pollination of its tiny yellowish flowers.

Tiny blue black fruits often encircle young upturned stems, so plenty of pollination must occur.

About 95% of the fruit (drupe) is seed with a small about pulp, so the fruits often remain on the branches for an extended period of time while birds consume fleshier (& tastier?) fruits. In the spring migratory birds like robins and cedar waxwings will “finish off” the fruits just as they do with the magenta fruits of beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Also known as colicwood and Guianese colicwood, myrsine grows to be a small columnar tree, 8 – 20′ with a spread of 2 – 3′, making it an excellent tree section for small yards. In Indian River County you often will find this tree growing in hammocks, though further south it is a more common component of pine flatwoods. Though this tree is said to favor growing near mangrove areas, you may find it growing near the beach as shown at the Barrier Island Education Center and Sanctuary in the midst of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) …

Its alternate leaves that tend to be clustered and crowded at the ends of its upturned branches giving it a whorled appearance especially in sunny spots.

Its individual leaves are about 4″ long and oblong to oblanceolate as shown above and below in a photo of seedling growing at ORCA near the coastal wetlands.

The margins (edges) of its leaves are curved, and that trait helps to differentiate myrsine from marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides), a related plant in the myrsine family, Myrsinaceae. “Myrsine is green” is the mnemonic device coined by Sherry Shipley, a member of the inaugural FMEL Volunteer Nature Stewardship Class, to help differentiate these two plants that both grow in hammocks. The young stems of marlberry are brownish in color. The non-native invasive shoebutton ardisia (Ardisia elliptica) also is a member of this family.

Species matter!

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