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Eugenia Myrtifolia – Brush Cherry

With their rough bark, naturally small leaves, and eagerness to back-bud, the Brush Cherry makes a great plant for bonsai. If these features are not enough to attract you, they also have a white flower and magenta fruit! They are a common landscape plant in Florida where they are sheared into formal, clean, shapes.

Brush Cherry get a small magenta fruit following their white flowers.

Brush Cherry get a small magenta fruit following their white flowers.


Brush Cherry bonsai fruit with coins shown for scale.

Brush Cherry have fruit about the size of a penny making them a perfect scale for bonsai.

Natural Habitat

The Brush Cherry is a canopy-growing rainforest tree native to Australia. Their botanical name, Eugenia Myrtifolia reflects the fact that their leaves closely resemble those of Myrtle. In nature it is a tall growing, bushy tree. They have small shiny green leaves, white bowl-shaped powder-puff flowers, followed by a magenta cherry, which is commonly eaten in Australia.

Brush Cherry As Bonsai

Hardiness

As a tropical tree they will not tolerate cold temperatures. Although, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy our tropical greenhouse was without heat and did reach down around 40 degrees for a few nights, they survived undamaged while some other tropicals did display cold damage. Nevertheless, the trees will do better in warmer temperatures. They will do better outdoors in the summer months but will need to be brought indoors in the winter. As evergreens they will need bright light even in the winter months so make sure you have a bright window available.

Water Requirements

The brush cherry has average water needs, but do not allow the soil to remain dry between watering! They will lose branches if left too dry for too long, and may or may not back-bud from that point. We have helped people whos trees had completely lost their leaves and many branches had died. By leaving the tree in the greenhouse on the heater it was able to be revived after several months without leaves, but there had been branch die-back. So best is to not let them dry out, but avoid sitting-water as well.

Fertilizer Requirements

No special requirements for these trees, just consistency. Any balanced fertilizer you have will work, as with any other bonsai.

Transplanting / Repotting

As a tropical bonsai, the brush cherry should be transplanted when they are about to actively grow. This is usually in the early summer months. They do not form swelling buds like other plants to indicate new leaves forming, rather putting out tiny new leaves already open, ofen on new wood. Their roots can get quite long in a pot and can be cut back quite drastically under such scenarios, but should not be cut back by more than 1/2 under most conditions to play it safe.

Pruning and Styling

Pruned Brush Cherry bonsai.

This Brush Cherry bonsai has been pruned aggressively and is already back-budding.

Brush Cherry can be pruned aggressively and will back-bud on old wood quite readily.

Brush Cherry bonsai back-budding on trunk.

This Brush Cherry has started back-budding on a trunk that’s easily 20 years old.

They have a rough, crackled texture for their bark, which develops on their branches and roots alike.

Texture of a Brush Cherry bonsai's bark.

The Brush Cherry develop a crackled bark on the roots, trunk, and branches.

As bonsai, the Brush Cherry will develop thick lower branches easily if allowed to grow, helped a lot by their tendency to back-bud. The Brush Cherry can be wired, but be careful bending branches as they have a tendency to snap if taken too far too soon once the new growth has hardened off. Although not as brittle as the glass-like branches of Japanese Maple, we have broken enough over the years to learn this lesson!

Brush Cherry can take on many forms as bonsai. We have used them from informal uprights to cascades and windswepts. Their small leaves make them ideal for just about any size tree. Some of ours are over two feet tall, and others under half a foot.

Brush Cherry leaves and fruit shown for scale.

Both the leaves and fruit of the Brush Cherry are perfectly sized for bonasi.

Although they have a rich green color year-round, Brush Cherry also get a bright red new growth which can be ornamental and can be covered in white flowers in the summer.

Red new growth on a Brush Cherry bonsai.

Brush cherry have a fiery red new growth which contrasts nicely with their rich green leaves.


Brush Cherry Bonsai with white flowers.

This Brush Cherry bonsai is covered in white flowers.

Light Requirements

As a tropical canopy tree, Brush Cherry prefer bright light. However, it’s better to keep them humid as they are not well adapted to arid conditions such as a heavily heated room in mid-winter. This becomes less necessary as long as the roots are kept watered, as we have had sprouted Brush Cherry with their roots directly in the ground last months in the summer without watering. These plants had tapped directly into the underground water flow and were able to tolerate hot dry air as a result.

Propagation

Eugenia Myrtifolia cuttings growing in bonsai soil.

Although they will grow from seed, we propogate Eugenia Myrtifolia from cuttings.

Brush Cherry can be propagated by seed (there have been several growing directly from the stone floor in our greenhouse over the years) and do not require cold stratification to germinate. The method that we prefer is cuttings. A small amount of rooting hormone can help, as will misting of the cuttings to prevent drying out.

Pests For Brush Cherry

Aphid on Brush Cherry bonsai.

You can see the white aphid on the stem of this Brush Cherry bonsai.

Brush Cherry can be affected by aphids, although not a favorite host of these insects. Scale can be a more frequent problem, and should be watched for in the winter months. Both can be easily controlled by spraying with Camelia Oil. We have never come across any diseases affecting these plants.

22 Comments

  • I have two Brush Cherry(Eugenia)Topiary. They are shaped into two balls. The leaves have completely fallen off of both plants. The top balls seem to be ok for the moment. They are kept moist all the time but not wet. I live in San Antonio and we do get some very dry weather on occasion. I will go out an mist them. They are in the shade except for about one hour each day.

    Ideas?

    • If it’s hot…they use lots of water. You may claim to be keeping them watered now but my guess is they went dry. Maybe you even bought them that way. The leaves lost will grow back providing it does’t happen too often. Give it a little time and new buds will begin to appear (couple weeks). –d.

  • Should have added it is the bottom balls that have lost all their leaves.

    • Eugenia will take a fair bit of shade in hot, sunny conditions (we have them growing under hothouse benches sometimes) and will take a lot of sun and heat as long as the roots are cool!

      How are the top leaves? If they’re in good shape then it could be that the canopy has shaded out the leaves that have fallen. Plants will allocate their energy to the branches (and leaves) that are doing the most photosynthesizing. The tolerance varies by species, but all plants have this trait. It’s use it or lose it! If the bottom leaves (or branches) don’t get enough sun, the plant decides that it doesn’t need them and allocates its energy elsewhere.

  • Hi, I have a eugenia bonsai for 6 years and I never got flowers. How can I get it to flower?

    • Flowering is hard to predict in any plant but in most cases I’ve seen cherry’s flower annually. You can start by making sure the Eugenia is fertilized regularly and the tree is healthy. I use a general purpose 20-20-20 fertilizer in most cases and feed bi-weekly while the cherry is activly growing. Now the flowering cycle (NJ, that is) begins in the summer. The tree should begin producing flower buds in the start of summer and by mid-summer the flowers open. Now for those of you who prune their tree for shaping, you might be cuttings flower heads off in the process. All is not lost because in most cases the tree will produce flower heads farther back on the stems. However if your pruning these areas thightly, again you might be cutting the flower heads off.
      What I do is to prune the tree in the spring. I’ll refine the shape and than allow the tree to grow freely without cutting any farther. This allows the tree to keep a nice shape while it’s producing flower heads.
      Depending on where you live, it may be too late for this season but, be sure to try again next year. I hope this helps. –d.

  • If I wanted to keep it indoors is it harmful to my dog or cat?

    Thanks. Sandee

  • I just received a brush cherry bonsai as a house warming gift. It was shipped from New York to my new home in Las Vegas where it is hot and humid. Should I put it outside during the day…it is typically over 100 degrees? Both inside and out are very dry. Any help is appreciated.

    • Hi Barbara,

      Plant roots will start to die somewhere around 105 degrees, so you want to keep them cooler than that. What I would personally recommend is to try growing the tree in a shady spot outdoors if possible. I would also keep the tree in a free-draining medium that won’t break down quickly, and water twice a day when it’s hot. When you water, water thoroughly. The water will keep the roots cool, the free-draining medium will allow oxygen to reach them and keep them from suffocating. Dave may be able to recommend more as he grows them in some pretty hot and dry New Jersey summers. Some even rooted themselves in the ground under the benches of one of the greenhouses. The tops can withstand the heat as long as the roots are kept cool.

  • My Brush Cherry seems to be growing well but it has not flowered. I did repot it and prune it in the spring and then let new growth grow thru august. I fertilized with a balanced fertilizer but no flowers happened. Any suggestions….
    Thanks, Kathy

    • I don’t know why this happens but I’ve seen it before. I have one which is green and growing lush but it never flowered. It was repotted last year. Sometimes pruning the foliage back hard will prevent them for flowering but if you do it early enough it shouldn’t be a problem. I can only suggest you use plenty of fertilizer and water while growing them. They love water. I like them in slightly over-sized pots as bonsai in order to stay ahead of the watering demand. d.

  • I’ve been trying to purchase gallon size Brush Cherry to make a hedge along a wall,but no luck.I’ve been told the growers aren’t growing them anymore?I have a neighbor that has a big hedge.Can I take cuttings and root them?What’s the correct way of doing this?How long would it take to get to a point where I can plant them in the ground and start a hedge?

    • I don’t know if growers aren’t growing them anymore or are there just less growers around. Cuttings are doable. I stick them early summer but only had them root while under a misting system while in NJ. I use last years wood w/o even using a rooting hormone. How long will it take, I can only say that the cuttings are apx three times the size at the end of the second year; at this point think about planting them out. They grow even faster after the second year of development. –d.

  • I just purchased a brush cherry bonsai about two weeks ago. So far so good, but I have noticed that the root system is quite weak. For example, you could almost pull the tree out of its pot with minimal effort, it doesn’t seem very secure/sturdy. I’m wondering if that’s an issue, would that indicate an issue with the trees health? Should I be concerned, or just wait until Spring and repot it?
    Might be a silly question, but I was just wondering.

    Thanks,
    Daniel

    • Hi Daniel,

      It’s true that a plant’s health begins with the roots, but it depends if the shakiness is a sign or poor health or not based on when the plant was repotted. You don’t want to disturb the roots, so don’t shake the tree. Newly potted bonsai tend to be shaky unless well anchored with wire, and there are various ways to anchor the tree depending on the type of pot. If, however, the tree has been in the same potting medium for some time and it shows signs of health deterioration (yellowing and dropping of many leaves, dying branches) then I would take the risk, repot it right away into a very free-draining mixture, water and fertilize heavily and frequently, and keep the temperature, humidity, and light levels as high as possible while hoping for the best!

      As long as the plant looks healthy I would let it be until the weather warms up and it starts to grow actively again before transplanting as it’s just safer that way. Tropicals are usually transplanted in late spring or early summer. How’s the potting medium? If it’s free-draining such as lava or haydite, then water a lot. If it’s soil-based then watch the surface of the soil to tell when it needs to be watered (soil changes color and texture when dry compared to wet), and don’t let it dry too much between watering.

      Feel free to email a picture, or if you’re local, stop by the nursery and bring the brush cherry!

  • Hello,

    I have had my brush cherry for 7 years, maybe more. We’ve been through a lot together. Somehow the loss of leaves and history of hard times and damage has made it more strange and leggy looking, but more beautiful and personally/historically valuable to me. Most recently, well about 2 years ago when we moved my husband left it in the hot car. It lost a lot of leaves. About 1 year ago I pruned the roots a bit too much when repotting. And this spring it is losing all of its leaves. The leaves seem to have brown spots in the leaves not on them. Then many of them turn yellow and fall off. It does not seem to me to be scale nor mites. I am not sure what it is, but I am afraid I will lose it this time.

    Do you have any advice?

    Thank you very much in advance

    • Eve,
      After reading your story the best advice I can suggest at this time is “water”.
      1)Inside a hot car leaves will dehydrate faster than roots can supply water (providing theirs water in the soil to supply the tree). Once the leaves are damaged…they fall off.
      2)Aggressive root pruning will compromise the tree which prevents it from funtioning normally, roots are the “life Support System”. Aggressive root pruning also leads to dead branches.
      3)Leggy shoots. This is what you get when the leaves in the center of the tree fall off. In most cases it’s due to stress and lack of sufficent water. You don’t mention it, it can also be due to lack of light.
      4)Brown spots (gray sometimes) or yellow. These are signs of stress, in general interior leaves will fall when the tree is under stress, again it can be due to lack of sufficient water.

      My advice…pay careful attention to the trees watering needs. They like the soil to be moist so water freely and completely each time. Don’t wait till the tree is stressed between waterings. These trees are very hardy and tough, and will bounce back when their needs are met.

      May I suggest you “slip pot” the tree into a larger container if you find it too difficult to maintain. A larger pot will hold more soil which in turn will supply a “reserve” of water. This will give you time between watering cycles.

      I hope this helps…keep us posted.

      All the best in bonsai, Dave

  • Hi,

    I am looking to buy a brush cherry bonsai and was wondering how long they can expect to live?

    • Hi Dion,

      The answer really is indefinitely, provided they continue to receive proper care.

      Trees do not age chronologically the way animals do. Trees continue to grow until the distance between the tips of their roots and their leaves reach too great of a distance for them to carry resources. Then they start to decline. Even in decline, they can continue to grow new roots/branches from a level that they can sustain, keeping themselves going, as long as they can support themselves structurally and survive the environment.

      As bonsai, the trees will never reach that level where the roots and leaves are so far apart that they cannot support themselves. Therefore, the trees can live indefinitely. They are dependent on us to always provide for them in order for that to happen though.

  • Hi ! I am so glad I found your blog! ! I am new to the world of gardening, specifically indoor potted plants. However, last week at the grocery store I saw these poor little topiary sitting outside on a cold day ! I had to rescue them. Now, i feel like they are looking worse instead of better. The leag drop is increasing in concentrated areas. Some parts are lush speckled with sofball sized areas of dried out crunchy leaves and almost completely bare branches. Ive watered twice, and leave them by my French door during the day for sunlight. I do see new leaf growth, but not near the dried branches. It is late fall so i am scared to transplant into new pots. (I want to though !) I am also nervious about pruning. Do i need to prune andncut back the dried out branches or should i wait until spring ?? Also, they seem as though they have spent way too long in there current containers. I can actually see roots coming out of the top soil as if they arw running out of space. I feel so lost! Im already attatched to these little babies. Pleae HELP!!! Email me as well as responding on here please :) I will be much obliged to send pictures so you can fully understand the condition of the plants. So very greatful !! ~ Cat M.

    • Cat
      Welcome to the world of gardening and plant rescue. Reaching out for advice is always good when you feel lost, and everyone can learn from your experience. You mention a couple of issues going on with your new plants so I’ll try and answer as they’re mentioned.
      1) “Dried and crunchy” are dead branches. Go ahead and finish breaking these off either cutting or snapping with your fingers.
      The cause…the tree is allowed to dry too hard or improper watering. Cherries must stay moist. Allowing the tree to dry excessively will cause leaf drop (center leaves first) followed by branches dying off. You mentioned watering twice but fail to mention over what period of time…cherries are heavy water users. (please understand, avoid standing in water). New leaf growth is normal once the tree is supplied with needed water. Cherries are great for “back-budding” on areas exposed to light. Areas of the tree now opened by the removal of the dead branches will sprout new growth very quickly.
      2) “Root pruning” I would wait on. I think the tree needs to show signs of turning around first. This would indicate you have a handle on things. Cherries can quickly colonize a container with roots. This is good but you’ll need to “root prune” regularly. For now, if you wish, consider “slip potting” into the next size pot and add new soil. Adding extra soil now will help prevent it from drying out as fast. I think you should “root prune” at a time the tree can be placed outside again in the spring. Natures environment is perfect for this. When the time is right begin “root pruning”, by FIRST soaking the tree overnight to allow the tree to rehydrate. If the tree is really pot-bound consider taking 1/3 off the root ball. Many of the roots will wrap around the bottom, this actually makes the job easier. Next take a knife and cut a few of the roots running circular in the middle. If allowed pull these away. Repot into fresh soil, soak it well, and keeping it in a shady area for a week or two will help prevent shock.
      I hope you find this useful. Please write back if you have other questions.
      Dave

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