Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa) is a Florida native shrub that gets its name from the small, red fruit it produces. Other names are wood balsam, Seminole Balsamo, and café marron. It is extremely cold sensitive. If it freezes it resprouts in the spring producing a shorter plant.
Wild Coffee, grows as a dense, round, multi-stemmed shrub about 5 feet tall and spreads between 4 to 8 feet. You will see it in pinelands, shell ridges, coastal hammocks, and sandy shaded areas. Its leaves are glossy, puckered, waxy, and light green when in full sun. When in the shade the leaves are deep forest green. The leaves are 5 inches long with veins running through them. Small, white flowers bloom in spring and summer and produce a fragrance similar to the gardenia.
Many butterflies, including the Florida state butterfly, the zebra longwing, and the spicebush swallowtail drink nectar from the flowers of wild coffee. Honeybees visit the flowers and pollinate them. Bright red, half-inch berries appear, in late summer or fall, each with two seeds. These seeds are an important food source for cardinals, catbirds, mockingbirds and blue jays, as well as other birds. Wild coffee berries were once used as a coffee substitute even though they do not contain caffeine.
The shrub grows well in alkaline soil. It is not salt-tolerant, but germinates readily, has few pest problems, needs only varying amounts of water and is not invasive. Is also prevents soil erosion. With its contrasting green leaves and red berries, its fragrance when in bloom and its wildlife benefits, the Wild Coffee shrub will make a wonderful addition to a shady spot in your landscape.
Photo Credit: Mary Keim