This upright, densely-foliated, rounded evergreen tree is usually seen at 15 to 25 feet and a spread of 20 to 35 feet, though it can grow larger. Young trees appear pyramidal until the multiple trunks begin spreading. This can form a rounded vase on older specimens. It is a wonderful small to medium-sized tree for subtropical landscapes, typically sporting a multiple trunk. Trunks often grow almost parallel to each other, and embedded or included bark forms regularly, but this does not appear to compromise the wood strength of pigeon plum. The 2- to 4-inch-long, shiny, bright to dark green, leathery leaves drop uniformly in March but quickly emerge as bright red new growth. The small, whitish-green flowers are abundantly produced on 2- to 6-inch-long racemes in early summer, followed by 1/3-inch-long, dark red to purple, berry-like fruit. The single-seeded, somewhat edible fruits ripen in late fall and winter and are very attractive to birds.
Scientific name: Coccoloba diversifolia
Pronunciation: koe-koe-LOE-buh dye-ver-sih-FOLE-ee-uh
Common name(s): pigeon plum
USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Figure 2)
Origin: native to Florida, the West Indies, southern Mexico, and Central America
UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: native
Uses: hedge; parking lot island 100-200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; reclamation; street without sidewalk; deck or patio; specimen; shade; tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; urban tolerant; highway median; container or planter.
Height: 20 to 40 feet
Spread: 20 to 35 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: upright/erect, round, vase
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: moderate
Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 7)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: oblong, ovate
Leaf venation: pinnate, brachidodrome
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen, broadleaf evergreen
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: bright to dark green and shiny or dull on top, paler green underneath; emerge reddish
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy
Flower color: whitish green
Flower characteristics: showy; emerges in clusters on 2"–6" long racemes
Flowering: year-round, but most abundant in spring and summer
Fruit shape: round to oval
Fruit length: 1/3 inch
Fruit covering: fleshy, berry-like achene
Fruit color: green, turning dark red to purple when ripe
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; not showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem;
Fruiting: ripens late fall to early winter
Trunk and Branches
Trunk/branches: branches don't droop; very showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns
Bark: mottled gray and brown, smooth, and flakes off in plates to reveal dark purple inner bark
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Current year twig color: brown
Current year twig thickness: medium, thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown
Light requirement: full sun to partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; alkaline; moist but well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: high
Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: yes
Outstanding tree: yes
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases
Use and Management
Although pigeon plum makes a wonderful shade tree, the fallen fruit may create a litter problem on patios and sidewalks, and along streets. But the 2-month inconvenience of messy fruit may be a small price to pay for the wonderful effect this striking tree creates along streets or in a residential yard. Lower branches will need to be removed over time for vehicle clearance along streets, but there is a definite place for the tree along boulevards where cars will not park. The 1- to 2-foot wide, straight, upright trunks have grayish-brown bark that falls off in plates to reveal dark purplish bark beneath, helping to make pigeon plum a wonderful specimen tree. It looks striking as a specimen lighted at night from beneath the canopy. Trees trained to a single trunk in the nursery can be very useful for planting along streets where vehicle clearance is needed.
Fast-growing in full sun or partial shade, pigeon plum does best on moist, well-drained soils. It has good salt tolerance. Be sure to slice and otherwise drastically disturb and pull apart the root ball on pot bound, container-grown trees. Pot-bound trees have a reputation for rooting out poorly into landscape soil.
Propagation is by seed.
Pests and Diseases
No pests or diseases are of major concern. Chewing insects will occasionally riddle the new growth, but control is not usually required.
Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.