Plants that look great as formal and informal hedges aren’t always easy to find. Eugenia is a plant so versatile it can be grown as a tree, bonsai, or perfectly shaped topiary shrub. The only catch is this plant’s subtropical needs.
This plant is one of many species in eastern Australia/ New South Wales that is known for being cold hardy, tolerating temperatures that many species (including other edible fruit species) of New South Wales could not. That said, the brush cherry (one of the many other names used for this plant) does still like things to be relatively warm.
If you live in zones 10 or above, this could be your new favorite plant, so read on to learn more about the cultivation details for this gorgeous plant!
What Is A Eugenia (Syzygium Paniculatum) Shrub?
There are many species in the genus Eugenia and many more in the genus Syzygium that used to be known as eugenias. In this article, we focus on what is arguably the best and most useful of all for gardening, Syzygium paniculatum.
These plants of the Myrtaceae family have a few different common names and may be called eugenia, brush cherry, Australian water pear, magenta lilly pilly, or magenta cherry. All of these other names aren’t representing many species – it’s all the same species!
To make matters a little more confusing, these evergreen trees or large shrubs are still often called by their old scientific name of Eugenia myrtifolia.
Nevertheless, Syzygium paniculatum is the commonly recognized name for those involved in plant biodiversity research – so that’s what we’ll refer to this evergreen shrub as in this post!
Growth Rate and Conservation
Eugenias usually grow as large multi-stemmed evergreen shrubs or trees with a very dense growth form. If trained early, these plants can also be grown as single-trunked trees.
Some exceptional specimens grow to over 100 feet (30 m) but most plants grow to a maximum of less than half that outside of their natural habitat. In the garden, they can be kept to 6 feet (1.8 m) or so with regular trimming.
These rainforest trees are native to the southeast to eastern Australia (new South Wales) where they grow in coastal forests, often exposed to salt carried in the moist ocean air. They can also be found in range Australia climates.
They’re one of around 30 evergreen shrub and tree species that are designated as needing resources for conservation by the Australian government and the Calflora database.
Eugenia shrubs have small, oval-shaped, simple leaves with smooth margins. Young growth is an attractive copper to red shade, becoming glossy green when mature.
New South Wales eugenias bloom in the spring, producing interesting cream-white flowers. These flowers with a white flower color mature into showy and attractive pink or red berries of around ½ an inch (13 mm) or so in length.
These fleshy berries on the eastern Australia brush cherry contain a single seed and are very popular with birds and wildlife both large and small.
How To Grow A Eugenia Plant
Eugenias are moderate to fast-growing plants that can be grown from seed, cuttings, or by air layering.
These plants grow best in deep, rich soil with a good organic material content. The most important requirement, however, is that the soil be well-draining since these plants don’t do well in waterlogged environments.
Applying a thin layer of organic mulch to the soil surface beneath your plants will improve moisture retention and suppress weed growth, just be sure not to apply mulch up to the stem and crown of your plants to prevent rot.
Although these plants are fairly drought tolerant, they will grow well with regular watering, provided the soil is allowed to drain fully between waterings. Providing extra water during very hot and dry periods is also recommended. Water young plants weekly until they are established and growing well.
Eugenia trees can be grown in a large container or even indoors in a very sunny spot. Plants that are grown in containers generally need more frequent watering than those grown out in the yard.
Grow these plants in full sun to partial shade in an area that is not exposed to prevailing strong winds. They can be grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11.
Care and Maintenance of Syzygium Paniculatum
In the right climates, eugenias are easy to grow, low maintenance plants. How much maintenance they require will depend on how you are using them in the landscape.
One of the most useful characteristics of the plant is its ability to withstand frequent and heavy pruning, although this may naturally have an effect on its ability to fruit and flower.
These plants can be pruned tightly for a very neat look, and they are very well suited for topiary work in pots for patios and decks, or formal hedges.
In anything but naturally rich and fertile soil, regular application of a balanced fertilizer will help to increase plant growth vigor as well as flower and fruit production. Whichever fertilizer you choose, be sure to follow the supplied usage instructions
These plants are pest-resistant but may be affected by a disease caused by a fungus known as Neofusicoccum parvum. Unfortunately, this disease can result in plants being killed off completely and has become quite common in Florida since around 2005.
There are several recognized uses for Syzygium paniculatum. Not only are they edible plants, but they are prized for being some of the most gorgeous native plants you can use in your landscaping, too.
Horticultural Uses for Brush Cherry
Eugenia is a really useful and versatile plant in the right zones. They make an excellent hedge, working well as both tightly clipped formal hedges and informal natural screens for shade, privacy, or hiding unattractive features. A plant spacing of around 4 feet (1.2 m) is ideal for growing a great eugenia hedge.
Their tolerance for pruning makes them an excellent choice for topiary work, and they can also be grown as espaliers, bonsai plants or simply left to naturalize into a large shrub or small tree for the wildlife to enjoy.
These plants are sensitive to transplanting, so be sure to take into account the size of these plants before planting them too close to a building or road. The attractive fruits may cause some staining on walls or paving if you choose an inappropriate planting site.
Edible Uses for the Brush Cherry
Apart from their many aesthetic and practical uses in the landscape, these plants produce edible fruits which, although not strong in flavor, can be eaten raw or made into jams.
Though their edibility rating is relatively low – the fruits from these plants aren’t going to be as delicious as those from, say, apple or peach trees, it’s still important to recognize the edible uses as a benefit of growing these native plants!
Wildlife Uses for Syzygium Paniculatum
Birds and animals love the berries produced by these plants.
Final Thoughts on Syzygium Paniculatum
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about Syzygium paniculatum – aka the brush cherry, Syzygium australe, the magenta lilly pilly, and so much more.
Now that you have all the edible uses and cultivation details you. need to know, there’s no stopping what you can do! Plant your brush cherry in well-drained soil (sandy soils are best) and make sure you’re growing in frost free areas with part shade.
You don’t need to make a trip to the mainland south eastern Australia/ New South Wales area to enjoy the brush cherry. Give this plant a try and bring the beauty of Australia’s littoral rainforest areas into your own home. You’ll be glad you did!
For just about any garden in zone 10 or 11, there’s a great use for a eugenia bush. Just take care to consider the size these plants can grow to if left uncontrolled when selecting a planting site. Happy gardening!
(1) Palmateer, J. & Gazis, R. Branch Dieback of Syzygium paniculatum (Eugenia). Retrieved at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/PP/PP28300.pdf
*images provided by the author