Among the plants at Camp Salmen that are not part of the original forest but instead, showed up during the last century as an invasive species from the Orient, is the Christmasberry (Coral ardisia). It is so named because of its clusters of vivid, red berries. It’s also known as Australian holly, coralberry, spiceberry, hen's-eyes and scratchthroat. This last name may have something to do with its identification as toxic to livestock and humans, though native birds and raccoons are known to happily consume (and spread) the berries. The second to last name must be about a chicken I hope I never meet in a dark ally.
The plant is a low, evergreen shrub with dark, waxy leaves that might make one think vaguely of a mini-magnolia. Each year small, whitish flowers yield clusters of berries just under its crown of leaves. These berries are its chief distinction as they stay on the plant for most of the year. Specimens in our woods occur in small bunches and typically don’t get much taller than a couple of feet, though they can get up to six feet tall. You can see the greatest concentration where they carpet the wooded slope between Mary’s Grotto and Goldfish Bayou.
The plant is native to Japan and was introduced to Florida as an ornamental around 1905 by an overly helpful horticulture industry. It wasn’t spotted as an escapee until 1982. Now it’s spread across the Gulf South.
The dense, low canopy it creates shades out most of the sunlight from the lower understory plants that belong here. Its year-long production of seeds creates an overwhelming secondary generation of seedlings waiting just underneath.
Though you can temporarily wipe out stands of this plant, you can’t ultimately get rid of them. Its prolific seed production insures that there will be plenty more replacements. They are known to regenerate after fire and cutting. The waxy coating on its leaves sheds herbicides. Yanking them out of the ground by hand works but is impossible over a large area. Dispersal of the seed by animals is an ongoing fact of life.
On one hand, such plants as the Chritmasberry ruin the diversity of the native plant community, potentially making the Earth a planet of weeds, susceptible to the relentless onslaught of the aggressive gutter punks of the plant and animal kingdom. On the other hand, like it or not, these plants are here to stay. How would you like a decorative Christmasberry for your next Holiday Season?
The plant’s bright red berries, just in time for cheerful, Holiday decorating. Note the profusion of small starts underneath, ready to shade the sun from other, possibly more deserving ground cover.