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February 15th, 2023

Wild coffee: Native plant on the wild side

by R.S. Walsh

Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) is a native ornamental shrub that goes very well in most native landscapes. This plant is found in the higher areas of swampy or wet areas that are seasonally wet and dry. Its glossy green leaves marked with deep grooves adds a nice textured look to a green hedge or border planting. Because of the textured leaf, wild coffee is sometimes referred to as “the plant resembling a gardenia”. In fact, the gardenia and wild coffee actually do belong to the same family Rubiaceae. Wild coffee will bloom intermittently in spring and summer. The flowers are small, tubular, white and in small clusters about 2 to 3 inches wide.

Don’t be fooled by the name, wild coffee is not a coffee plant that is edible by humans. It was so named because it does produce red fruit that resembles coffee beans. These fruit are, however, eaten by a large variety of birds including our state bird, the mockingbird, as well as blue jays, catbirds and cardinals throughout the summer and fall seasons. In addition, the small white flowers are attractive to some butterflies.

Wild coffee has an upright growth pattern and is a multi-stem evergreen shrub. You can use it in either sun or shade conditions. Under shaded conditions it will like have a taller more sparse shape. In full sun it will grow out more rounded in shape and more filled it. This plant grows to approximately 5-6 feet tall when untended. You can prune them to a more manageable height of 3-4 feet which makes a nice border hedge or foundation planting. All in all the wild coffee is a great native plant choice for a variety of sun conditions. It is also moderately salt and drought tolerant. All these great attributes make this plant a good addition to your native landscape.

This plant column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, a Sanibel garden center located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel, Florida.

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