WALA Plant Library
Synonyms: Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry
Scientific Name: Malpighia punicifolia L.
Family: Malpighiaceae (Barbados cherry family)
HabitatThe Yucatan peninsula in Mexico
Fruits: vitamin C, vitamin B6, provitamin A as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin.
Although its fruits are described as cherries, acerola is not related to our own native cherry, which is a member of the rose family. The red, very sour acerola fruits are one to three centimetres in diameter and at first sight do indeed resemble extremely red cherries. However, this red has paler tints running through it, and star-shaped, dried remains of the flower can be seen at the base of the fruit. In this it resembles the apple. Inside the fruit are numerous stone-like seeds. The evergreen acerola plant belongs to the Barbados cherry family. It is native to the tropics and grows either as a bushy shrub close to the ground and prostrate or in the form of a small tree which can reach a height of one to three metres. Young branches bear split hairs and green bark. On older branches the bark is smooth and may be covered in cork pores. The leathery leaves are of an elongated oval shape. From June to July the acerola tree bears somewhat exotic-looking flowers which can be up to two centimetres in diameter. Five pink petals radiate like the sails of a windmill from the middle of the flower, at the centre of which the pollen-yellow stamens stand tall and upright. The flowers do not produce nectar. Instead, the petals bear oil glands called elaiophores, whose oily secretions attract pollinating bees.
Acerola cherries are extremely rich in vitamin C; indeed, their vitamin C content is many times higher than that of the citrus fruits. The ripe flesh of the fruit is so soft and its skin so thin that acerola cherries are exported by the tropical growers almost exclusively in processed form. They are employed in the food industry as a vitamin-C-rich ingredient for juices, but also in the form of boiled sweets or food supplement powders. People who are allergic to citrus fruits often use acerola as a substitute.
The Swedish taxonomist Carl von Linné (1707-1778) created the scientific name Malpighia in honour of Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694). This Italian physician, anatomist and physiologist was a professor of medicine in Bologna and personal physician to Pope Innocent XII (1615-1700). He became famous for his microscopic investigations into the anatomy and physiology of plants. The specific epithet punicifolia comes from the Latin puniceus = red-purple, and folius = leaved.
As already mentioned, the flowers of the acerola tree bear oil glands. The interaction between the flowers and the pollinating bees is remarkable. Usually these are bees belonging to the genera Centris and Epicharis, which are solitary, i.e. do not form colonies, and only visit oil-producing flowers. They are also probably attracted by another special feature of the acerola flower. Its five petals only appear perfectly symmetrical at first sight. On closer inspection, it is noticeable that one of the petals protrudes upwards slightly, feels somewhat firmer and is the first to lose its colour on wilting. The attracted bee lands on just this petal and uses it as a platform to look for the oil glands with its front legs. In doing so it pollinates the flower with pollen from the flower it has visited previously, which adheres to its underbelly. The oil glands secrete a fatty oil, consisting of mono and diglycerides plus a few free
fatty acids, that collects as a thin-skinned bubble on the surface of the gland. The bee scrapes off the oil with special combs located on its front legs, stores it for transportation together with pollen in flat, blunt bristles on its back legs and takes it back to the nest to feed its larvae with the mixture.
Use in Skin Care and Remedies
The acerola used in Dr.Hauschka Skin Care products comes from organically certified crops grown in Brazil. Extracts of acerola have antioxidant and skin-protecting and strengthening properties which enhance the formulas of Dr.Hauschka Cleansing Cream, Regenerating Eye Cream, Regenerating Neck and Décolleté Cream, Regenerating Day Cream and Regenerating Body Cream.