Coral ardisia

Ardisia crenata
Family: Primulaceae

Natural History
Showy fruits and leaves of coral ardisia
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Coral ardisia is a low-growing shrub from Asia that was first introduced to Florida in the horticultural trade around 1900. It has attractive foliage with interesting leaf margins and bright red fruits that appear in the wintertime when most gardens could use a little color. Not surprisingly, this plant quickly picked up the common name of "Christmas berry" and was widely planted. Unfortunately, it turned out to be highly invasive.

The same features that make coral ardisia so attractive to homeowners also help make it a problem in natural areas. The showy fruit that persist on the plant year-round are very attractive to animals, including mockingbirds, cedar waxwings, and raccoons. These animals consume the fruit and subsequently distribute the seeds to new areas. When seedlings come up in a forest understory area, they can create a dense carpet of more than 100 seedlings in a square meter. The thick, evergreen leaves can then block out what little sunlight is available, making it impossible for seedlings of other plants to grow. For this reason, the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) has listed coral ardisia as a Category I invasive, meaning that it is an invasive plant that is currently altering native communities.


Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Coral ardisia prefers moist soils in the shady forest understory. It is most often found in hardwood hammocks, but it can invade other ecosystems as well. In Florida it is found in the coastal counties of the mid-penninsula, in Alachua and Marion counties in the north penninsula, and in a handful of panhandle counties around Tallahassee.
Size/Form: It is an evergreen subshrub ususally growing around 2ft high, although in very rare circumstances it can get up to 6ft high. There is usually a single upright stalk with branches that spread out evenly around the upper half.
Stem: Generally one brown, thin, upright stem, although the plant often responds to cutting by producing multiple new stems.
Twigs: Thin, green, and waxy, sometimes making the leaves look compound instead of simple.
Leaves: Simple, alternate, elliptic, dark green, and about 6" long, with distinctive crenate margins that look as if they were cut out with fingernails.
Flowers: Small white flowers with yellow anthers in the middle.
Fruit: Bright red, spherical drupes about 8mm in diameter, growing in clusters held out from the main stem. On some less-common cultivars, the drupes can be white. The fruit generally appear in the winter and persist year-round.



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