Barbados Cherry Tree Facts:

The Barbados cherry tree is native to Jamaica. The trees are not found in other Caribbean islands like Trinidad & Tobago or St Kitts & Nevis.

They grow only in the island of Barbados. The trees are very tall (up to 50 feet) and have thick branches with many leaves and small white flowers which bloom from April through June. The fruit is a yellowish red berry. The seeds are round and white.

Barbados cherries are not used commercially in any form, but they do produce some commercial products such as jam, jellies, juice and wine. There are several varieties of Barbados cherry trees grown in the United States including the Barbour’s Red Delicious, which grows mainly along the East Coast of North America.

Barbados cherry tree is a deciduous tree which means it dies back every year after flowering. The fruit ripens in late summer and early fall.

It is thought that the trees produce their fruits for one season before dying back again. If the trees were ever harvested, they would need to be replanted each year because they will die back each time they are cut down.

How To Grow Barbados Cherry Trees?

As with many other fruit trees it is important that the soil is well drained so that the roots do not rot. It is also important that the soil has some organic matter mixed in with the native soil because many types of fruit trees have large appetites and need a lot of nutrients.

The trees can be grown from seed, but this process takes a long time (5-7 years) before the tree is of a productive age. It is much quicker and more reliable to plant a sapling which has been grown from seed for one or two years before being planted out in the ground.

Barbados cherries are very frost sensitive and should not be planted in extremely cold areas where the temperature regularly drops below -10C (14F). They do well in most other places including parts of Florida, California and the Southwest of the United States.

They cannot tolerate areas that get a lot of humidity.

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Barbados cherries trees grow to between 15-30 feet in height and are fairly wide at around 15-20 feet across. They can be grown in large containers.

Cherries require cross pollination with another variety of cherry tree. Without this the fruit will be infertile.

Propagation by seed is reliable, but can take up to five years for a tree to come into bearing. It is much quicker to plant a grafted tree or to buy a tree which is already in production.

The trees are usually grown in large containers until they are big enough to plant in the ground. The size of the final planting hole should be around 1.5 times the width of the root ball.

Plant at the same depth as it was planted in the container. Keep the soil moist, but not water logged and mulch around the base of the plant.

Cherries are ready to pick when they fall off the stem easily.

PESTS & DISEASES

Cherries are prone to a number of pests and diseases including:

Aphids – These are small, winged, soft bodied insects that range in color from light to dark green or even black. They feed on plant sap through piercing the stems and fruit with sharp mouth parts.

This results in stunted growth, deformed leaves and fruit with a blackish mold. They also spread around viruses between plants.

The larvae or young aphids are called phylloxera and they feed on stems underground. The adult females also lay their eggs underground and these eventually develop into more aphids.

Aphids can be recognized by their constant movement and generally always being on the plant. Fruit is often covered in them.

They can be controlled through the use of sprays of soaps & oils, or even by soaking the plant for 24 hours in water mixed with a little dish detergent.

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This will kill off most of the aphids and if done regularly will keep their numbers under control. They are also vulnerable to some pesticides.

If infestation is severe then it might be better to pick all the fruit off the tree and throw it away. This will stop the spread of the aphids to other, healthy plants.

Cherry Fruit Fly – These are small dark brown or black flies which lay their eggs in the ripening fruit. The eggs hatch and the maggots feed on the flesh of the fruit.

This results in badly misshapen, but edible fruit.

The adult flies can be recognized by their short life span (less than a week), and distinct buzzing sound that they make during the day.

Most often this is not a serious problem and can be picked off the fruit and destroyed. If infestation is bad they can be sprayed with insecticide.

Cherry Scab – This is a fungal disease that affects the leaves, fruit and branches of the plant. It appears as brownish leaf spots which can merge together and eventually cover the whole leaf.

The underside of the leaf commonly becomes covered in dark brown bleeding spots.

The fruit commonly becomes covered in small brown blisters which dry up and leave a dark scab like area. The fungus can also attack the stem, causing it to become thicker and harder thus making it difficult for the plant to absorb water.

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If left untreated the leaves will drop off prematurely and the fruit will fall from the tree.

The disease is spread by spores which are in the air and carried by rain or wind to the plant. If plants are placed to close together they are more susceptible to the disease.

The most important factors in preventing the disease are, using clean soil, spacing plants correctly, and avoiding injury to the plant. A thick layer of mulch around the base also helps protect against the spores.

If the disease has already developed, it can be treated by applying a fungicide or insecticide.

Cherry Leaf Spot – This is a fungal disease of the leaves that is spread by splashing water and poor drainage. It can be identified by small, light green spots that develop into brown or purple flecks on the top of the leaves.

If these spots are touched, they will become larger and irregularly shaped. The leaves will also start to yellow and fall off.

Severe infestations can kill the plant.

The disease is more common in wetter climates and can be prevented by using clean soil, providing good air flow, and spacing plants far enough apart to allow for airflow.

Leaves can be wiped off with a cloth and water solution to remove the flecks that have formed.

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Cherry Yellows – This is a viral disease which affects all parts of the plant. It is spread by both insect vectors and through contaminated equipment, clothing & tools.

The most recognizable symptom is yellowing of the leaves which starts at the tips and works it’s way to the center. Eventually the whole leaf will be yellow-green or red-brown in color.

The disease affects all parts of the plant eventually leading to small fruit with sparse, stunted growth and a shortened growing season. Severely infected trees will show little or no fruiting at all.

The disease is incurable, however there are some varieties which appear to be more resistant to it.

The best way to prevent the disease is by plant quarantine, planting resistant varieties, and proper sanitation

Citrus canker – This is a fungal disease that affects the twigs of the tree in wet or humid conditions. The fungus spreads from infected trees, to healthy trees through insects or contaminated tools.

The most common symptom of the disease is a dark brown or blackish discoloration at the base of the twigs. Eventually this will cover the whole twig and will produce a dark, peeling bark.

Severely infected trees will have hundreds of dead, curly twigs and branches all over the tree.

Leaves and fruits will be reduced in size and quality, and severely infected trees will not produce fruit at all.

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If caught early enough, the disease can be treated by removing all infected twigs and branches.

Cole crops – Cabbage worms – cabbage worms are green caterpillars with a white stripe along their backs. They can reach up to four inches in length.

These pests are common in many varieties of garden plants, especially cole crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts.

The worms are most active in the period of February to October, however they can infest the whole year round in tropical areas.

The caterpillars can be found eating the leaves of the plants, or on the undersides of leaves spun together with silk. They also sometimes rest on the upper sides of leaves along veins where they camouflage themselves by resembling the vein patterns.

They can be killed by spraying with a recommended insecticide such as Diazinon.

Cucumber Beetles – Cucumber beetles are a group of yellow or orange, one quarter inch long beetles. They have zigzag black stripes across their wing covers.

These insects damage plants by feeding on the foliage. They also carry a disease called Fusarium Wilt that is spread through their mouthparts.

The disease affects only cucumbers and related plants such as melons, squash, pumpkins, and gourds.

The beetles are most active from May to October, and can be found on the undersides of leaves where they are feeding.

They can be killed by hand, or wiped off with a cloth. They can also be controlled by spraying with a recommended insecticide such as Diazinon.

Cucumber Mosquitoes – Cucumber mosquitoes are small, slender, brown mosquitoes that have a wingspan of about one inch.

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These pests are mainly found in damp, shaded areas near water. They can often be found in the axils of plants or under loose tree bark, or sometimes even in buckets or watering cans.

The adult mosquitoes feed on plant nectar and rarely bite humans, however the larvae are predators of plant tissue and can severely damage plants by feeding on their roots. It is the larvae that damage cucumbers and other related plants.

The easiest way to control these pests is to eliminate all stagnant water sources near the garden. If this is not possible, then pesticide sprays only offer a short-term solution as the mosquitoes will soon build up immunity to the poison and will return in full strength.

One of the best ways to combat these pests is to introduce nematodes into the soil. These microscopic roundworms invade the bodies of grubs and kill them within a few days.

Flea Beetles – Flea beetles are black, hard-shelled, one-sixteenth inch long beetles. They have a distinctive pattern of fine, dark stripes on their wing covers.

These insects cause damage to plants by feeding on the juices within the leaves. These juices then ooze out from the holes chewed in the leaves and this can give the plants a ‘lacy’ appearance.

The adult beetles are most active from May to September, and can be found on the upper sides of leaves, or on the newly set fruit. They fly very short distances, so if there are a few plants in a row they will easily fly from one to the other.

Caterpillar Control

One of the strategies insects use to find food is to follow chemical trails left by other insects. This is why you’ll often see ants trailing in lines to and from food sources.

Caterpillars take this one step further and release a chemical that actually attracts other caterpillars to come and join them. This is called the Kairomone process and fortunately, we can take advantage of it to control the spread of the pests within our gardens.

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All we have to do is collect the caterpillar bodies after we’ve applied the recommended pesticide spray to kill them. Once all the caterpillars are dead, we can dispose of the bodies by burying them or burning them.

The idea is to then apply a little of the kairomone chemical on one plant in the garden and place a few dead caterpillar bodies on the leaves. These will act as bait to any wandering pests.

As they feed on the dead caterpillars and also the kairomone, they will be lead to the plant and this is where they’ll meet their doom!

This approach is known as ‘bait-and-kill’ and there are special dispensers available to make the process easier. These are sold under various brand names, including ‘Killer Koatlet’, ‘Bug Bonanza’, ‘Bug B Gon’ and ‘Siege’.

Caterpillar killer dispenser

These devices are nothing more than a small can with a hole at the bottom end and a cage over the hole to keep out large insects. You add the dead caterpillar bodies to the bottom of the can and place it against the plant stem.

The sweet kairomone chemical slowly leaks out and any caterpillars in the area are soon drawn to the plant and up into the can to feed. They never make it out of the can and as the can fills up you simply dispose of it and replace it with a fresh one.

No insecticides are used, so beneficial insects and honey bees are not harmed by this approach.

Caterpillar Killer Dispenser: How It Works

Insect pheromones (chemical signals) play an important role in insect behavior, especially as far as mating is concerned. The female silk moth, for example, can release a particular scent that is attractive to male moths up to 10 miles away!

Caterpillars also use pheromones to communicate with each other and scientists have been able to take advantage of this fact to develop traps for various caterpillar pests.

For the past few decades, dispensers called ‘Killer Koach’ have been on the market and gardeners have used them with varying degrees of success. The devices work on the same principle as the moth traps and essentially, they are nothing more than small can with a perforated lid and a cage over the hole.

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You fill the can with about 1/4 inch of vegetable oil, place it against the stem of a plant and add 5 or 6 dead caterpillars to the bottom. The sweet pheromones the caterpillars give off quickly fill the can and are expelled through the hole by the weight of the oil.

Any passing caterpillars are quickly attracted to the smell and climb up to feed, but because of the cage they are unable to get back out. They eventually decompose and more pheromones are released, calling more caterpillars to their death. After a week you simply dispose of the can and replace it with a fresh one.

Over the years there have been many types of these devices on the market with names like ‘Killer Koatlet’, ‘Bug Bonanza’, ‘Bug B-Gon’ and ‘Siege’. They all work on the same baited trap principle, but some work better than others.

The most effective brand appears to be ‘Killer Koach’, simply because the can is wider than the others and therefore more suitable for larger caterpillars. They also seem to work better outdoors where there are more caterpillar pests and less honey bees.

Indoors, the honey bees seem to find them before you do and often eat the caterpillars before they have a chance to!

These devices are not restricted in any way and can be purchased at any garden center or nursery. You should have no trouble finding them and they are relatively inexpensive.

Of course, if you prefer, you can always make your own. It’s really quite simple and all you need is a small can with holes in the top and bottom, some raw meat and a few insects!

NOTE: This approach will work for most caterpillars, however, if you are trying to control the fall armyworm you will have little success as this pest seems to be resistant to these types of traps.

Downsides, Problems and Concerns

Be aware that when you start using these devices, the caterpillars will tend to congregate on the stems near the dispenser. This isn’t really a big problem in most cases, but if the infestation is severe it will cause damage by chewing on the stems and leaves nearest the device.

This damage can hamper plant growth to some degree.

Insecticides

Chemical insecticides will kill or deter many of the caterpillar pests that infest your plants, but care must be taken when using them. Many of these chemicals are highly toxic to humans and pets, so take care to keep them away from the body and especially, your eyes.

Also, some of these products are highly flammable and some even degrade into extremely poisonous gases. Make sure to carefully read the labels and follow all instructions.

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Systemic Insecticides

Most insecticides are applied to the plant itself in some form or another, but some caterpillar pests tend to hide in the soil and foliage near the base of your plants and won’t feed on the leaves at all. Others overwinter in the soil and emerge in the spring when you have planted your seedlings.

For these reasons it may be a good idea to use a systemic insecticide.

Systemic insecticides are absorbed by the plant through the roots or leaves and distributed throughout the entire plant. This allows the chemicals to be ingested by the caterpillars when they feed on the leaves.

There are several types of systemic insecticides available to home gardeners. One type contains a growth regulator and is marketed under such names as M-Pede, Garden Kelp (which also contains seaweed extract), and Advantage Multi.

Sources & references used in this article:

Radioprotective effect of the Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra L.) against radiopharmaceutical Iodine-131 in Wistar rats in vivo by E Düsman, AP Berti… – BMC …, 2014 – bmccomplementmedtherapies …

Barbados cherry: Agriculture, breeding, utilization and role in nutritional and economical security-A review by K Dey, A Ghosh, FK Bauri, N Bhowmick… – Agricultural …, 2018 – indianjournals.com

… of Entomopathogenic Fungi (Hyphomycetes) against Anthonomus fulvipes (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) in Organically Grown Barbados Cherry Trees: Laboratory and … by BE Martin, LG Martin – 2012 – Storey Publishing

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