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Understory thicket of the non-native shoebutton ardisia, Ardisia elliptica, in a Florida hammock. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Photographer Ann Murray.

Ripe berry-like fruits on a mature A. elliptica specimen. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Photographer Ann Murray.

Species Name: Ardisia elliptica Thunb
Common Name: Shoebutton Ardisia
Seashore Ardisia
Ati Popa'a
Synonymy: Ardisia ketoensis Hayata
Ardisia polycephala Wall.
Ardisia solanacea Roxb.
Ardisia humilis Vahl.
Bladhia elliptica (Thunb.) Nakai

    Kingdom Phylum/Division Class: Order: Family: Genus:
    Plantae Magnoliophyta Magnoliopsida Primulales Myrsinaceae Ardisia

    Species Description

    Shoebutton ardesia, Ardisia elliptica, is a tropical shrub or small tree not native to Florida but now occurring as an invasive species in the southern half of the state. The typical growth form in undamaged plants is a single, smooth stem that gives rise to short, perpendicular branches. Plants may send up additional stems from the rootstock, particularly after damage. Individuals produce strong taproots that produce highly branched lateral roots.

    The leaves are alternate, oblong to oval, pointed at the tips, smooth and leathery/rubbery, 8-20 cm long, pink to reddish in young plants and turning dark green with age. Star-shaped flowers, to 13 mm wide with pale violet-colored petals occur in axillary clusters. Fruits are round, berry-like drupes, 6 mm wide that are white when young and turning red and then dark purple to black when ripe, and capable of staining fingers. The flesh of the ripe fruit is juicy when broken and white in color, and each fruit contains a single seed (Langland and Burks 1998, Francis undated, ISSG).

    Potentially Misidentified Species

    Two native Florida plants, marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides) and myrsine (Rapanea punctata) are related to Ardisia elliptica and similar in appearance. Langland and Burks (1998) note that A. elliptica can be distinguished from these native plants by its larger growth habit and conspicuous clusters of violet axillary flowers.

    A. elliptica may also be confused in Florida with a non-native congener, the coral ardisia A. crenata, whose distribution in the state is broader but still partly overlaps that of A. elliptica. The scalloped leaf margins and persistent bright red fruits of A. crenata aid in distinguishing it from A. elliptica.


    Regional Occurrence

    The native distribution of Ardisia elliptica is not entirely certain, and the original range of the species has variously included India, Sri Lanka, China Taiwan, Malaya, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines (Tomlinson 1986, Langland and Burks 1998, Yuen-Po 1999).

    The plant is an introduced exotic that now occurs in the East Indies and Okinawa, Japan, and has become naturalized in south Florida, Hawaii, and the Caribbean (Langland and Burks 1998, Francis undated).

    IRL Distribution

    Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council collection records indicate that Ardisia elliptica is present in the southern half of the IRL watershed in St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach counties. Wunderlin et al. (1995) also indicate the plant is present in Brevard County, based on vouchered specimens. Brevard is the northernmost county from which the plant has been collected.


    Age, Size, Lifespan

    Adult trees can reach a height of 6 m and attain a basal trunk diameter of 15 cm. Adult mortality due to old age is rare in Florida and Francis (undated) suggests a likely lifespan of 10-25 years or more.


    Shoebutton ardisia is an understory species that forms dense monotypic thickets in moderately wet soil conditions. This invasive plant is now established in south Florida and is abundant in natural areas such as hammocks, marsh islands, cypress and mangrove habitats, and also in disturbed systems such as altered wetlands and fallow fields (Langland and Burks 1998).


    Reproduction in Ardisia elliptica is sexual and the species flowers and fruits sporadically throughout the year in south Florida (Long and Lakela 1971, Langeland and Burks 1998). Individuals attain sexual maturity in 2-4 years. Flowers are insect-pollinated Individual plants possess both male and female flowers and there is a high degree of autogamy or self-fertilization (Pascarella 1997).

    Fruit production is moderate, up to 400 fruits on large adults in bright forested sites (ISSG), but year-round production likely increases the overall reproductive capacity of individuals.


    Propagules remain viable after gut passage and seed dispersal has been reported as primarily through frugiverous birds (Langeland and Burks 1998, Francis undated), particularly the gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) in Florida. However, recent studies examining the spread of Ardisia elliptica in Everglades national Park suggest that long-distance dispersal by raccoons (Procyon lotor), although less frequent than bird dispersal, may be of primary importance in determining invasion rates (Horvitz and Koop 2005, Koop and Horvitz 2006).

    Seeds reportedly do not remain viable for more than 6 months (ISSG). Experimental evidence suggests germination rates are high; 75% of seeds planted in commercial potting mix with no pretreatment germinated 42-81 days after sowing. Seedlings may grow up to 1 m in the first year, but 0.25 to 0.5 m/year is a more typical rate for both seedlings and established shrubs (Francis undated).



    This tropical species is restricted largely to the southernmost Florida counties, most likely due to cold intolerance. Published thermal tolerance information is lacking, but prediction models by Braun (2006) suggest Ardisia elliptica will remain restricted to the southern half of peninsular Florida. In contrast, the models suggest the congener A. crenata (also non-native) has potential to spread through Florida and across the Gulf coast into Texas.


    Ardisia elliptica grows well in moderately wet soil conditions including mesic forest and lower portion of wet forest as well as mangroveanand cypress stands and marsh habitats (Adams 1972, Wagner et al. 1990, Langland and Burks 1998). Tolerance for wet soils is a key feature of shoebutton ardisia's invasive capacity.


    Ardisia elliptica is a shade-tolerant forest understory plant whose seedlings and young plants can survive in forested low-light conditions for several years. Juveniles take rapid advantage of breaks in the canopy layer and quickly mature to reproductive adulthood (ISSG).


    Trophic Mode

    Autotrophic (photosynthetic).

    Associated Species

    Ardisia elliptica tends to form monotypic thickets where conditions permit. It relies on pollinating insects and frugiverous birds and mammals to complete its life cycle.

    A measurable amount of insect herbivory is directed at Florida A. elliptica populations, but there has been no discernable effect on curtailing the spread of the species (Dominguez and others 2002).


    Invasion History

    Ardisia elliptica had already been imported to Florida for use as an ornamental plant by 1900 and by 1933 the species had been reported as having escaped from cultivation in south Florida (Small 1933, Morton 1976, Austin 1978, Gordon and Thomas 1997).

    Unintentional release to natural areas through animal-facilitated seed dispersal is likely the principal route of entry for this species in Florida. Although A. elliptica is no longer commercially sold as an ornamental, a large number of ornamental plantings remain in south Florida.

    Potential to Compete With Natives

    Ardisia elliptica forms dense single-species thickets below the forest canopy to crowd out native understory plants (Langland and Burks 1998). Shade-tolerance and tolerance for wet soil conditions contribute to the success of this species as an aggressive invader.

    Possible Economic Consequences of Invasion

    Prior to recognizing its invasive potential, Ardisia elliptica was a much-utilized ornamental species in south Florida. The fruits are edible but bland, and have little commercial potential. The plant is utilized for fuel wood in some parts of the world (Morton 1974, Francis undated).

    None of these marginal economic benefits offset the fact that A. elliptica is extremely invasive and ecologically damaging. It is listed by ISSG as among "100 of the Worst" global invasive organisms. It is also listed as a Category I invasive exotic plant in Florida, indicating that the species is currently altering native plant communities by displacing native species and changing community structures or ecological functions. A PIER species risk assessment considering potential impacts on Hawaii and other Pacific islands scored A. elliptica as a "high risk" species likely to cause significant ecological or economic harm.

    Resource managers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and staff at Everglades National Park have initiated costly eradication programs targeting A. elliptica (Langland and Burks 1998).


    Adams C.D. 1972. Flowering plants of Jamaica. Mona (Jamaica). University of the West Indies. 848 p.

    Austin D.E. 1978. Exotic plants and their effects in southeastern Florida. Environmental Conservation 5:25-34.

    Braun S. 2006. Predicting the distributions of two invasive exotics, Ardisia crenata and A. elliptica (Myrsinaceae). Poster presented at Botany 2006 Conference. July 28-August 2, 2006, California State University, Chico. Abstract available online.

    Dominguez J., Scott A., Scott T., Valdes G., Glenn C., and C. Moore. 2002. Herbivore damage on the invasive exotic Ardisia elliptica and the native A. escallonioides in Southeastern Florida. NSF Research in Ecology: Invasive Species. 3 p.

    Francis J.K. (ed.). Undated. Wildland shrubs of the United States and its territories: Thamnic descriptions. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. General Technical Report IITF-WB-1. Available online.

    Gordon D.R. and K.P. Thomas. 1997. Florida's invasion by non-indigenous plants: History, screening, and regulation. In: Simberloff D. Schmitz D.C., and T.C. Brown (eds.). Strangers in paradise: Impact and management of nonindigenous species in Florida. Island Press, washington D.C. 467 p.

    Horvitz C.C. and A.Koop. 2005. Relative importance of avian and mammalian seed dispersers to wavespeed of an invasive shrub in Everglades National Park. Paper presented at University of Miami Institute of Theoretical and Mathematical Ecology Workshop on Spatial Ecology: The Interplay between Theory and Data. January 7-10, 2005, Miami, FL.

    Koop A.L. and C.C. Horvitz. 2006. Population dynamics and invasion rate of an invasive tropical understory shrub. Paper presented at the8th International Conference on the Ecology and Management of Alien Plant Invasions, May 23-25, 2006, Raleigh, North Carolina.

    Langeland K.A. and K.C. Burks (Eds.). 1998. Identification and biology of non-native plants in Florida's natural areas. UF/IFAS. 165 p.

    Long R.W, and O. Lakela .1971. A flora of tropical Florida. University of Miami Press, Coral Gables. 962 p.

    Morton J.F. 1974. 500 plants of South Florida. Miami. E.A. Seamann Publishing. 163 p.

    Pascarell, J.B. 1997. Breeding systems of Ardisia Sw. (Myrsinaceae). Brittonia 49:45-53.

    Small J.K. 1933. Manual of the southeastern flora, part one and two. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC. 1554 p.

    Tomlinson P.B. 1986. The botany of mangroves. Cambridge University Press, London. 413 p.

    Wagner et al. 1990. Manual of the flowering plants of Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1948 p.

    Wunderlin R.P., Hansen B.F., and B.L. Bridges. 1995. Atlas of Florida vascular plants. Available online.

    Yuen-Po Y. 1999. An enumeration of Myrsinaceae of Taiwan. Botanical Bulletin of the Academia Sinica 40:39-47.

Report by: J. Masterson, Smithsonian Marine Station
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Page last updated: October 5, 2007

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