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What is Ardisia?

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  • Written By: Terrie Brockmann
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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Ardisia is a genus of plants belonging to the family Myrsinaceae, or the myrsine family. Coralberry or coral berry, marlberry, and spiceberry are all common names. Generally, these ornamental evergreen trees and shrubs are native to subtropical and tropical regions of Asia, Australia, and North and South America. Their natural habitat usually is moist woodlands. Gardeners in subtropical and tropical climates often raise them in the ground or in large containers; in colder regions, they make fine houseplants.

There are 250 species under the genus Ardisia. Depending on the species and cultivar, it may be an upright shrub, sometimes growing to a height of four feet (about one m). Some species grow as a ground cover that is between six to 18 inches (15 to 45 cm) tall.

The flowers of the plant generally are small, about one-fourth inch (0.6 cm) to one-half inch (about one cm) across and usually grow in branched, flat-topped clusters. Depending on the species, they grow in cymes — clusters of flowers that bloom from the center of the cluster outward — or in corymbs, clusters where the outer buds bloom first and flower inward. The spiceberry flowers in the spring, and the marlberry is fall flowering. Most of the flowers are white to pale pink, but some are red or reddish purple, depending on the species and cultivar.

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The leaf structure depends on the type of plant. The coralberry, or A. crispa, usually has leathery, dark green leaves that are two to five and one-half inches (five to 14 cm) long with small scallops on the leaf edges. The marlberry sports toothed leaves that are one and one-half inches (about four cm) long. Although most of the plants have solid glossy green leaves, some cultivars of the marlberry, or A. japonica, have variegated leaves. Most varieties have whorled leaves, meaning that three or more leaves grow in a complete circle around the stem.

The Ardisia plants often keep their berries on the plant through the next flowering season. The bright red berries usually hang in clumps under the leafy flowering stems. Decorators sometimes use the red-berried branches for fall and holiday decorations.

Generally, gardeners plant Ardisia plants in frost-free areas as border plants or ground cover. They usually flourish in garden areas that replicate their natural habitat of moist woodlands. An area that is half sunny and half shady usually is preferable. Most of the indoor plants do well in greenhouses or large areas owing to their large size.

Growers propagate Ardisia several ways, depending on the species. They usually divide the runners of low-growing species, such as A. japonica or marlberry. Growers may air-layer the stems of upright species, such as the A. crispa or coralberry, or sow the seeds.

Coralberry sometimes refers to Indian current, which belongs to the Symphoricarpos orbiculatus of the honeysuckle family. At times, gardeners mislabel coral berry as coral bush, or Templetonia retusa, which is a member of the pea family. Other gardeners refer to it as the coralberry tree; coral tree usually belongs to a different family. Some growers list A. crispa as A. crenulata or crenata. When purchasing coralberry of the Ardisia genus, a gardener should determine which plant he or she is getting.

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