Wild coffee

Pictured above: Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) by Keith Bradley. Click on terms for botanical definitions. View post as a PDF.

Wild coffee is an evergreen shrub that occurs naturally in coastal, hydric, mesic and rockland hammocks throughout Florida’s peninsula. Its flowers typically bloom in spring and summer, but may bloom year-round. They are attractive to a variety of pollinators, especially Atala and Schaus’ swallowtail butterflies. The plant’s fruits are a favorite of many birds and small wildlife. Humans can eat the berries, as well, but they are rather bland. Unlike its cousin, Coffea arabica, from which our morning cup of joe is derived, Wild coffee fruit contains no caffeine. The seeds can be roasted and used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute, but do so with caution as some sources suggest the brew may induce a headache.

Wild coffee produces an abundance of fruit. Photo by Jenny Evans (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Wild coffee’s many white to greenish-white flowers are small and tubular with 4- or 5-lobed calyces. They are born in sessile clusters that may be axillary or terminal. Its leaves are dark green, glossy and obovate to elliptic with pointed apices, deep veination and entire margins. They are oppositely arranged. Stems are glabrous. Fruits are oval drupes that turn bright red when ripe.

The genus Psychotria comes from the Greek psyché, which means “life” or “soul.” It may refer to the medicinal properties of some plants within the genus. The species epithet nervosa is from the Latin nervosus, meaning “sinewy,” and likely refers to the plant’s conspicuous veination.

Family: Rubiaceae (Coffee, bedstraw or madder family)
Native range: Peninsular Florida into the Keys
To see where natural populations of Wild coffee have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: Zones 8B–11
Lifespan: Perennial
: Moderately dry to moist, well-drained sandy, loamy or calcareous soils
Exposure: Partial to full shade
Growth habit: 3–10’ tall with 1–5’ spread
Propagation: Cuttings, seed
Garden tips: Wild coffee’s beautiful evergreen foliage and low maintenance requirements makes it a popular choice for many Florida landscapes. It is best suited for use as a specimen or accent plant, although several planted together can form a loose hedge. It is relatively salt tolerant and somewhat drought tolerant, but does not do well when exposed to too much sun or freezing temperatures.

Wild coffee is available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.PlantRealFlorida.org to find a nursery in your area.