Friday, December 17, 2010

Ardisia Crenata

Every Christmas season there is a pretty selection of holiday plants available at local greenhouses and garden centers that includes the usual favourites: poinsettias, Christmas cacti, amaryllis bulbs, paperwhites, cyclamens and kalanchoes. And since I’m growing or have grown all of them at some point, you can imagine how difficult it is to feel any enthusiasm when I’m passing through a houseplant section that time of year. Sure, the beautiful flowers are eye candy for a plant lover’s soul, but seeing the same old plants - with nothing new to buy - brings on that ho-hum feeling.

Regardless of that, I always stroll through gardening section after gardening section, stopping now and then to inspect something up close, but not interested in taking anything home. I do like the pretty decorative baskets and festive pots that include an ensemble of popular foliage and flowering plants, but no matter how charming they are, I leave the store empty-handed. Either I don’t like one or two of the plants included, or I already have most of them. And so it goes like this every year.

But one day, last year, I spotted something ‘different’. I moseyed on over to the object of curiosity and was quite pleased by its unique form. It was a bushy mass of dark green, leathery leaves with serrated edges borne high above an erect stem, which gave the plant the look of a small tree. But the attractive foliage was not the only thing that caught my eye. Bright red berries hung in clusters beneath the glossy leaves. This was one of the most interesting plants I’d ever seen offered during the holidays. It was tagged properly in terms of its name, but since I’d never seen it before, I was completely clueless about its care requirements. Was it truly suitable for the indoors? Or was it just another temporary, disposable specimen? Something I wasn’t in the mood for. So I didn’t bring one home.

Needless to say that when I found out that this handsome, evergreen shrub was recommended for growing indoors, and that it was long-lived, I regretted not picking one up. In addition, by the time I did get a chance to go to the store where they were being sold, they were all gone.

The plant that I’m referring to is the Ardisia crenata, occasionally sold as A. crispa and commonly-known as coralberry or spiceberry. And even though I missed the opportunity to pick one up, I’d still like to share what I’ve learned about it.

A Very Berry Shrub

Ardisia crenata is a handsome, slow-growing shrub that eventually reaches a height of two to three feet indoors. Belonging to the Myrsinaceae family of plants, this easy to grow plant is native to the warm regions of Southeast Asia. In the spring it produces tiny white or pink flowers shaped like a star but fairly inconspicuous. It’s the successive bright red fruit that is quite showy and the reason why the Ardisia crenata qualifies as a holiday plant.

At the end of August or beginning of September, the plant produces a scant amount of berries that are green when they first emerge and gradually change to shades of coral as they begin to ripen. By the month of October the fruit (not for human consumption) will turn a scarlet red as it fully ripens. November and December are the peak months for the berry display, just in time for the holidays. Those scarlet clusters of fruit can last as long as six months, sometimes more. You definitely get your money’s worth with this lovely plant.

Keep your berry producer in a bright spot, out of direct sunlight. Midday sun must be avoided but a little morning sun from an eastern location does not hurt. While the plant is actively growing, keep the soil moist at all times, watering thoroughly during each application. When growth slows down, do not water until the medium is fairly dry. Never allow the root ball to dry out completely.

Above average humidity is essential to this plant’s overall health. Dry, hot air can cause flower bud loss and the premature dropping of berries. Increase moisture levels by misting frequently, by placing the plant on a pebble tray or by adding a humidifier nearby. A cooler temperature of about 15°C (59°F) is preferred if you can provide it, but 18°C (65°F) will be tolerated quite well.

This plant becomes less appealing as it ages, and although many growers discard and replace it, you can revitalize it each year by cutting it back heavily in early spring. With proper care and yearly pruning, the Ardisia crenata will remain attractive and produce flowers for a long time to come.

Don’t miss the opportunity to grow one of these wonderful plants like I did. If you see one at a local store, pick it up and have yourself a very berry Christmas.


  1. You'll probably have the chance to buy it again; around here both Ardisias (crenata and elliptica) are pretty common in starter-plant sizes (3"/4" = 8 cm & 10 cm).

    I don't know about A. crenata, but A. elliptica is very easily started from the seeds once the berries are ripe, so if you don't want to cut your plant back when it gets older, you can just start new ones.

    I really like Ardisias as houseplants, and I'm not sure why they don't have a bigger fan base. (It may be that they're held back by a lack of cultivars: I've never seen any variegated Ardisias, and the only cultivar I'm familiar with is a version of A. elliptica with reddish new growth, which is nice but not exactly jaw-dropping.)

  2. Yes, I'm also surprised that they don't have a bigger fan base. Even if there is a lack of cultivars, I would have expected more people to be interested in them. But the few that do end up in greenhouses this time of year are barely noticed since they sit in the shadows of the Poinsettias. I saw so many Poinsettias this year that it was insane. Even the Christmas cacti were barely noticeable. I didn't see any Ardisias in most places I visited, but there are still a couple of greenhouses that I haven't dropped into for awhile; perhaps I'll take a trip this week and see what holiday plants they have - aside from Poinsettias!


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