Ardisia japonica

Herbs gallery - Marlberry

Common names

  • Marlberry
  • Japanese Ardisia

The genus Ardisia comprises about 500 plant species, which are found growing all over the tropical as well as sub-tropical regions worldwide. For centuries, several species belonging to genus Ardisia have been used for therapeutic purposes, as food and also as ornamental plants. While various Ardisia species contain novel as well as biologically powerful phytochemicals like ardisin and bergenin, thus far mankind has not been able to fully explore, let alone utilize, the Ardisia species or the various phytochemicals contained by them. As a result, these plants and their resources remain under exploitation.

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Marlberry has its origin in East Asia and is native to some regions in China and Japan. This species belongs to the Myrsinaceae plant family and many gardeners use this plant as a ground cover throughout the year. In fact, marlberry plants are best suited for this purpose. These plants can grow up to a height of 40 cm and, hence, can also be used as a low hedge. The flowers of marlberry vary from white to pink and the plant bears small berry-like fruits that ripen in the beginning of winter. When ripe, the color of the fruits changes to deep purple and sometimes even black. To some extent, the plant bears resemblance to the butcher's broom. However, these two plants are not related in any manner whatsoever.

The marlberry plant is a beautiful, somewhat rare, evergreen ground cover that bears pink hued flowers, whose shape resembles that of a star. This plant blooms in spring and the flowers give way to abundant small red hued berries that appear in the fall and continue all through the winter months. Usually, birds do not have a preference for marlberry fruits, but they do consume them when other food is not available easily during the winter. The dark green leaves of the plant are glossy, attractive and serrated heavily on their edges. The leaves appear in whorls at the stem terminals. Marlberry plants propagate by their seeds and also increase underground through their runners.

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The leaves of marlberry plants appear in whorls or are arranged in a cluster opposite to one another. Each leaf measures anything between 4 cm and 7 cm in length and between 1.5 cm and 4 cm in width. They have heavily serrated margins, while the apex is acute. Across, these flowers measure anything between 4 mm and 10 mm and each flower generally comprises five white or pink petals. On rare occasions, you may find a marlberry flower having six petals. The flowers bloom towards the end of spring and appear in racemes. The fruit of marlberry is basically a drupe, measuring 5 mm to 6 mm in diameter. Initially, they are red and, when ripe in winter, their color changes to deep purple and sometimes even black.

The flowers of Japanese ardisia are hermaphrodite, meaning that each flower of this species contains the male as well as the female reproductive organs.

Ardisia japonica grows most excellently in conditions that are moist and wherein the soil is fertile, acidic and well-drained. This plant thrives well when grown in locations ranging from partial to total shade. Exposure to excess sunlight during the afternoons may result in the burning of the plant's foliage. When mature, the foliage of Ardisia japonica has a deep green hue. However, the color of new growths during the spring may have a pale green, bronze or copper hue.

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Japanese ardisia (Ardisia japonica) is a wonderful plant for growing in a shaded or partially shaded woodland area of your garden. It can do wonders by filling up as a groundcover. While Japanese ardisia thrives in areas receiving low lights wherein turf grass cannot survive, this plant cannot endure foot traffic. This plant spreads slowly via suckering, but is never considered to be invasive or aggressive. This species cannot put up with standing water and, at the same time, cannot tolerate extreme drought conditions. Hence, it will be necessary to water the plants at least once a week during the drought like situations during summer, as it will ease the competition faced by the plant's roots.

Parts used

Leaves, roots.


The importance of marlberry for therapeutic uses can be gauged from the fact that in Chinese traditional medicine this herb was once including in the lost of Fifty Fundamental Herbs. Even today, this herb is used in the form of a decoction either independently or as an expectorant in combination with other herbs. The decoction prepared using only marlberry is also employed to treat stomach cramps related to menstruation problems and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, the marlberry decoction is used for alleviating agonizing swellings. This therapeutic preparation with marlberry is also employed in the form of a diuretic, for treating jaundice and purifying blood.

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Findings of one study examining the health benefits of marlberry have revealed that this herb possesses reasonable anti-HIV activity in vitro. Two constituents of this herb bergenin and norbergenin are said to be responsible for its moderate anti-HIV actions. According to the findings of another study, the action of marlberry is relatively feeble against HIV virus. It has, however, been established that bergenin is effective in dealing with coughs.

This herb is especially employed for treating bronchitis. In addition, it is also effective in reducing flatulence. Marlberry leaves have also been used for combating cancer. A decoction prepared from the leaves as well as the stem of this shrub is employed for curing coughs and treating uterine bleeding. The root of this herb possesses diuretic properties and is also used as a cure for poison. This herb contains saponins, which normally to some extent possess anti-cancer actions. Ardisia japonica or Japanese ardisia can also be employed for treating malaria or as an antioxidant diet. Often, this herb is also used in the form of a food preservative.

Available documents clearly show that marlberry has been used for several centuries in Chinese traditional medicine. At the same time, experts feel that there is a need for further studies with this herb with a view to explore and establish more therapeutic properties of this plant.

Marlberry also possesses depurative, carminative and expectorant properties. In addition, the use of this herb helps to promote blood circulation. The leaves of this shrub are employed in the treatment of cancer as well as hepatoma. While the plant possesses depurative properties, its root is a diuretic and antidote.

Habitat and cultivation

You can grow Japanese ardisia both indoors as well as outdoors. When grown outdoors, this species is usually planted in the form of a groundcover in foundation plantings or shade gardens. At the same time, Japanese ardisia is a wonderful container plant for growing indoors.

All plants belonging to the genus Ardisia are easy to grow. These are excellent plants for growing in shaded areas or places receiving morning sun. Ideally, you should plant marlberry in moist, rich and acidic soils having excellent drainage. In case the temperatures in your location drops below 20°F, plant marlberry in a protected place. Usually, these plants are not bothered by diseases or pests, so you need not be too concerned about them.

Marlberry also grows well when planted in places having conditions similar to those in woodland. Many Ardisia cultivars have actually been created for their ornamental worth. Some of the special features of these cultivars include fragrant flowers and attractive foliage. These cultivars have been developed from Ardisia species that are not native to North America.

It is best to harvest the seeds of ardisia in winter when they are mature. It is important to sow the seeds in a greenhouse soon after harvesting. If you are using stored seeds, you need to sow them at the earliest time possible in the year. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, prick them carefully and plant them in separate pots. Continue to grow the seedlings in any shaded location of the greenhouse for no less than their first winter of existence. When the young ardisia has achieved a height of 20 cm or grown taller, they can be planted in their permanent locations outdoors in the later part of spring or during the beginning of summer.

Marlberry can also be propagated from semi-mature wood cuttings. The cuttings should be planted in summer and grown in shaded, cool and moist conditions till they establish a good root system.

Side effects and cautions

While marlberry plants are usually safe for therapeutic use, excessive doses of this plant may prove to be deadly for the health of the kidneys.


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