Malpighia emarginata is a tropical fruit-bearing shrub or small tree in the family Malpighiaceae. Common names include acerola (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐse̞ˈɾɔ̞lɐ]), Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crepe myrtle. Acerola is native to South America, southern Mexico, and Central America, but is now also being grown as far north as Texas and in subtropical areas of Asia, such as India. It is known for being extremely rich in vitamin C, almost as much as camu camu, although it also contains vitamins A, B1, B2, and B3, as well as carotenoids and bioflavonoids, which provide important nutritive value and have antioxidant uses. The vitamin C produced by the fruit is better absorbed by humans than synthetic ascorbic acid.
M. emarginata is originally from Yucatán, and can be found in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, South America as far south as Peru, and the southeast region of Brazil, and in the southernmost parts of the contiguous United States (southern Florida and the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas). In Florida, it can be grown in protected locations as far north as Cape Canaveral. It is cultivated in the tropics and subtropics throughout the world, including the Canary Islands, Ghana, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, India, Java, Hawaii, and Australia.
Acerola can be propagated by seed, cutting, or other methods. It prefers dry, sandy soil and full sun, and cannot endure temperatures lower than 30°F. Because of its shallow roots, it has very low tolerance to winds.
The leaves are simple ovate-lanceolate, 2–8 cm (0.79–3.15 in) long, 1–4 cm (0.39–1.57 in), and are attached to short petioles. They are opposite, ovate to elliptic-lanceolate, and have entire or undulating margins with small hairs, which can irritate skin.
Flowers are bisexual and 1–2 cm (0.39–0.79 in) in diameter. They have five pale to deep pink or red fringed petals, 10 stamens, and six to 10 glands on the calyx. The three to five flowers per inflorescence are sessile or short-peduncled axillary cymes.
After three years, trees produce significant numbers of bright red drupes 1–3 cm (0.39–1.18 in) in diameter with a mass of 3–5 g (0.11–0.18 oz). Drupes are in pairs or groups of three, and each contains three triangular seeds. The drupes are juicy and very high in vitamin C (3-46 g/kg) and other nutrients. They are divided into three obscure lobes and are usually acidic to subacidic, giving them a sour taste, but may be sweet if grown well. While the nutrient composition depends on the strain and environmental conditions, the most common components of acerola and their concentration ranges, per 100 g, are: proteins (2.1-8.0 g), lipids (2.3-8.0 g), carbohydrates (35.7-78 g), calcium (117 mg), phosphorus (171 mg), iron (2.4 mg), pyridoxine (87 mg), riboflavin (0.7 mg), thiamine (0.2 mg), water (906-920 g) and dietary fibre (30 g)
The fruit is edible and widely consumed in the species' native area, and is cultivated elsewhere for its high vitamin C content. There are 1677.6 mg of vitamin C in 100 g of fruit. The fruit can be used to make juices and pulps, vitamin C concentrate, and baby food, among other things.
A comparative analysis of antioxidant potency among a variety of frozen juice pulps was carried out, including the acerola fruit. Among the 11 fruit pulps tested, acerola was the highest-scoring domestic fruit, meaning it had the most antioxidant potency, with a Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity score of 53.2 mg.
M. emarginata is a host plant for the caterpillars of the white-patched skipper (Chiomara asychis), Florida duskywing (Ephyriades brunneus), and brown-banded skipper (Timochares ruptifasciatus). Larvae of the acerola weevil (Anthonomus macromalus) feed on the fruits, while adults consume young leaves.
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