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.
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.
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.
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.
No special requirements for these trees, just consistency. Any balanced fertilizer you have will work, as with any other bonsai.
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.
Brush Cherry can be pruned aggressively and will back-bud on old wood quite readily.
They have a rough, crackled texture for their bark, which develops on their branches and roots alike.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.