Lycium carolinianum


Christmasberry, photographed at Crane Point Hammock, Marathon, Monroe County, in December 2013.

With its bright green leaves and bright red fruit, it takes little imagination to understand how Christmasberry got its name, especially during the holiday season when it's in full fruit.

Christmasberry, Lycium carolinianum, is a Florida native found in coastal habitats on both sides of the Sunshine State as far north as Duval County and as far west as Bay and Gulf. However, it’s absent from the wilds of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Its range includes one county in Alabama (Mobile) and one in Georgia (Camden). It’s found in South Carolina but there is no county level data available for the Palmetto State. Christmasberry is also native to Cuba and Mexico.

Favorite habitats include coastal berms, the edges of mangrove swamps and salt marshes.

Christmasberry is a shrub typically six to eight feet tall, perhaps hitting 10, with a broad, open habit. The leaves are small, simple, bright green and succulent, longer than they are wide, with margins that are entire, meaning no serrations or lobes.

The branches are firm and woody, and often have thorns. The bark is gray or silver.

The flowers are on a continuum of shades from violet to light blue to almost white, even yellowish, with a white center. They are solitary, borne at the leaf axils, usually with four lobes, sometimes five, about a half-inch or less in diameter and somewhat tubular. Christmasberry blooms year-round but peaks summer into fall.

The berries are small, egg-shaped and go from green when first set to bright red when ripe. Late fall and winter is the primary times for ripe fruit, which will persist on the plant through winter. The ripe berries are edible out of hand or dried, or used to make a tea. Unripe berries are toxic.

Birds eat the fruit; butterflies, including the great southern white and the gulf fritillary, nectar on the flowers. Bees and hummingbirds also visit Christmasberry for its sweet stuff. The sprawling, armed branches provide cover for small animals.

Christmasberry is used in landscaping as an accent plant or as a hedge. It can be trained to form a small tree or planted in containers.

It is a tough plant, well-suited for coastal environs. It takes to full sun, can grow in nutrient-poor soils and is toleratant of some brackish or salt water inundation. It prefers moist places, but it is moderately drought tolerant.

Other common names include Carolina desert-thorn (also spelled desertthorn), wolfberry and creeping wolfberry. It is a member of Solanaceae, the nightshade family.

Crane Point Hammock

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Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.