Wild coffee is a native shrub that makes a versatile addition to the landscape. The evergreen leaves are shiny and dark green. Clusters of small white flowers bloom from the branch tips in spring and summer, and red fruits are produced in summer and fall. The fruits resemble true coffee beans, but do not contain caffeine—while wild coffee is in the same family (Rubiacaea) as true coffee, Coffea spp., they are not the same species.
Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) has interesting leaves that are about 6 inches long. The leaf veins are distinctly impressed on the upper leaf surface and you can find fine hairs on the underside of the leaves along the main mid-rib. The leaves and fruits are somewhat similar to the invasive coral ardisia (Ardisia crenata), but wild coffee grows larger and is less cold tolerant. Additionally, the leaves are opposite with entire margins, as opposed to coral ardisia's leaves which are alternate with scalloped margins.
These shrubs reach 4 to 10 feet tall and spread 4 to 8 feet wide with a dense, rounded growth habit. When grown in heavy shade, the form may be more like a small tree with an open canopy. Cultivars of wild coffee, such as the dwarf shrub 'Little Psycho'™ can be found in the plant trade.
Birds and other wildlife are attracted to wild coffee fruits, while the flowers are one of the nectar sources for the rare Atala butterfly found primarily in southeast Florida.
Planting and Care
Wild coffee grows well as a specimen plant, hedge, or espalier in zones 9 to 11. It can also be used as a foundation, border, or mass planting. Regardless of where or how you intend to use your wild coffee, it needs well-drained soil to thrive.
These plants do well when grown in partial to full shade; leaves become yellowed and the plant will stay small if grown in an area with full sun. Wild coffee is moderately salt- and drought-tolerant and responds well to pruning. It's very cold tender when grown north of zone 9 and will need protection during a frost or freeze.
For more information on wild coffee, contact your county Extension office.
Also on Gardening Solutions
- "Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants" by Gil Nelson--available for sale in the University Press of Florida bookstore
- Psychotria nervosa, Wild Coffee