Triphasia trifolia (limeberry)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Threatened Species
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Prevention and Control
- Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Triphasia trifolia (Burm. f.) P. Wilson
Preferred Common Name
Other Scientific Names
- Limonia trifolia Burm. f.
- Limonia trifoliata L. (nom. illeg.)
- Triphasia trifoliata DC. (nom. illeg.)
International Common Names
- English: orange berry; trifoliate limeberry; triphasia
- Spanish: limón de Jerusalén; limoncito; mirto
- French: orangine; petite citronelle
Local Common Names
- Bahamas: chinese lemon; lime berry
- Dominican Republic: naranjita de pegar
- Guam: lemonchina; lemondichina
- Lesser Antilles: chinese lemon; citronella; mutton lemon; myrtle lemon; myrtle lime; sweet lemon; sweet lime
- Puerto Rico: china debakon; chinita
- Saint Lucia: sitonnèl; sweet lime
- Samoa: moli vai atigi lima; vali atigi lima
- United States Virgin Islands: lime-berry
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
T. trifolia is an aggressive invasive plant with the capacity to grow in sunny open areas as well as in shaded areas beneath the canopy forest (Daley et al., 2012). It is a woody shrub classified as a “weed” and included in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012). T. trifolia spreads by seeds that can be easily dispersed by animals, mainly by birds, facilitating the invasion of this species into native forests. Seeds have high germination rates under natural conditions and grow forming dense-spiny thickets in the understory of the forest (Clark, 2003; Daley et al., 2012). For example, vegetation surveys performed in the understory of secondary forests on the islands of St. Croix (US Virgin Islands) have showed stem counts for this species exceeding 38,000 stems per hectare (Clark, 2003).
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Rutales
- Family: Rutaceae
- Genus: Triphasia
- Species: Triphasia trifolia
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Rutaceae is a large plant family including about 154 genera and 2100 species distributed primarily in tropical and subtropical regions (Kubitzki et al., 2011). The genus Triphasia is located within the subfamily Aurantioideae along with nineteen genera including the genus Citrus. Triphasia includes three species native to South-East Asia (Indo-Malaysia), the Philippines and New Guinea (Kubitzki et al., 2011).
DescriptionTop of page
A glabrous shrub or small tree with paired spines in the axils of the leaves; leaves trifoliate; the terminal leaflet largest (2-4 cm long); lateral leaflets much smaller than the terminal one (1-2-2 x 0.8-1.2 cm), broadly rounded at the tip, cuneate at the base; petiolules very short (1.5-2 cm); petioles short (3-5 mm) and wingless. Flowers fragrant, calyx 1.5-2 mm long, 3-lobed, green, persistent; petals 3, white 8-9 mm long; stamens 6, filaments slender, glabrous, 5-7 mm long, anthers oblong, 2 x 1 mm; nectary disk annular or short-cylindric; ovary 3-locular. Fruits ellipsoid to globose, 1-1.5 cm long, dull reddish-orange or crimson when fleshy ripe; peel lemon-scented with many small oil glands; 1-3 seeds per fruit, immersed in mucilaginous pulpy flesh (Stone, 1970; Liogier, 1988; Acevedo-Rodríguez, 1996).
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
T. trifolia is native to South-East Asia, Malaysia, and Christmas Islands. It was introduced as an ornamental and as a “hedge or boundary plant” in many tropical and subtropical countries and currently it can be found in Africa, the USA (Florida, Hawaii, and Texas), Mexico, Central America, the West Indies and the Pacific islands (PIER, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012).
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 17 Dec 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Malaysia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Present, Widespread||Introduced|
|British Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||Tortola|
|Netherlands Antilles||Present||Introduced||Saba, St. Martin, St. Eustatius|
|Puerto Rico||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Weed. Also on Mona Island|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Nevis|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Present, Widespread||Introduced|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive||St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Federated States of Micronesia||Present||Introduced|
|Northern Mariana Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Papua New Guinea||Present||Introduced|
|French Guiana||Present||Introduced||Escaped from cultivation|
|Guyana||Present||Introduced||Escaped from cultivation|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
T. trifolia was probably introduced into the West Indies as an ornamental plant during the nineteenth century. It appears in an 1882 collection made on the islands of St. Thomas by H.F.A. Eggers (Smithsonian Herbarium Collections). Later, in 1886 it was collected in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico by P.E.E. Sintenis (Smithsonian Herbarium Collections). By 1905, Ignaz Urban (Symbolae Antillanae, IV: p. 320, 1905) reported this species as a “culta et quasi spontanea” for Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Hispaniola, St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Martin, St. Bartholomew, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Vincent (Urban, 1905). In 1918, N.L. Britton in his book “Flora of Bermuda” reported this species as “frequent in gardens” for the island (Britton, 1918).
In Florida, T. trifolia was also introduced as an ornamental and by 1913 it was reported as an introduced species occurring on hammocks, coastal plain, fields and cultivated grounds (Small, 1913). By 1933 this species is also reported in Texas (Small, 1933). In 1999, it was included in the Florida List of Invasive Species as an invasive Category II, which are invasive plants that have increased in abundance or frequency but have not yet altered natural plant communities (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2011). As an action plan to control T. trifolia, the Florida Exotic Pest Council requested that nursery growers, landscape professionals and garden centre retailers voluntarily stop using the plant (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2011).
T. trifolia has also been introduced on islands in the Pacific, including Hawaii, Guam, Fiji, Mariana Islands, and Micronesia, but the year of introduction on those islands is not clear, and on some islands, for example Guam and Fiji, it is considered a “common naturalized shrub” (Stone, 1970; Smith, 1985). Currently, T. trifolia is considered an invasive species that threatens ecosystems of the Pacific islands (PIER, 2012).
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
The risk of introduction of T. trifolia is high. It is widely commercialized as ornamental, windbreak plant, and hedge plant and it is still sold in the nursery and landscape trade around the world. T. trifolia is easily dispersed by seeds and it has the capacity to develop perfectly in open areas as well as in shaded areas (Daley et al., 2012). Consequently, the probability of this species invading and colonizing new habitats remains high.
HabitatTop of page
T. trifolia can be found growing in sunny-open areas as well as in shaded areas beneath the understory of secondary forests, hammocks, scrublands, coastal forests, mesic forests, ruderal communities, riparian areas, and disturbed areas from sea level to low elevations (Small, 1933; Stone, 1970; Smith, 1985). Because this species grows forming dense-spiny tickets and adapts well to pruning, it is commonly used to create natural hedges in urban areas (Daley et al., 2012).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
The chromosome number in T. trifolia is 2n = 18 (Guerra et al., 2000).
There are no studies available on the reproductive biology of T. trifolia. However, floral traits such as white and fragrant flowers, the production of nectar, and diurnal anthesis, suggest that this is an entomophilous species (Willmer, 2011).
Physiology and Phenology
T. trifolia prefers to grow in humid tropical areas on moderately loam sandy soils with pH between 5 and 6 (Verheij and Coronel, 1991). However, this species can also grow on limestone substrate (Daley et al., 2012). T. trifolia is a shade-tolerant species but it is also adapted to growth on open areas with full sunlight. It does not tolerate water-logging or frost (Daley et al., 2012; ISSG, 2012; PIER, 2012).
ClimateTop of page
|Af - Tropical rainforest climate||Preferred||> 60mm precipitation per month|
|Am - Tropical monsoon climate||Preferred||Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Mean annual rainfall||500||2000||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page
Soil TolerancesTop of page
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
T. trifolia spreads by seeds. Plants produce fruits throughout the year, and seeds can be dispersed by birds and bats (Wiles, 1987; PIER, 2012). This species is commonly planted in gardens and used as a hedge plant. Thus, seeds can be dispersed from gardens into natural forests (ISSG, 2012; PIER, 2012). As a shade-tolerant species, T. trifolia can germinate and establish in the understory of the forest (Daley et al., 2012).
Pathway CausesTop of page
|Escape from confinement or garden escape||Used as ornamental||Yes||Yes||USDA-ARS (2012)|
|Food||Fruits are edible||Yes||Yes||USDA-ARS (2012)|
|Hedges and windbreaks||Used as hedge plant||Yes||USDA-ARS (2012)|
|Internet sales||Seeds and plants sold online||Yes||Yes|
|Landscape improvement||Ornamental use||Yes||Yes||USDA-ARS (2012)|
|Medicinal use||Yes||Yes||USDA-ARS (2012)|
|Nursery trade||Yes||Yes||USDA-ARS (2012)|
|Seed trade||Seeds sold online||Yes||Yes|
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Economic/livelihood||Positive and negative|
Economic ImpactTop of page
T. trifolia is one of the hosts used by the Asian citrus psyllid Diaphorina citri. This psyllid can be one of the most serious pests of citrus if the pathogens that cause citrus greening disease are present. Citrus greening, also called Huanglongbing or yellow dragon disease, is one of the more serious diseases of citrus. Transmission of citrus greening occurs primarily via infective citrus psyllids and grafting (Halbert and Manjunath, 2004).
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact on Habitats
T. trifolia is commonly used as an ornamental in gardens because it attracts birds, and as a “hedge plant”. Unfortunately, birds and other animals (i.e., bats) can disperse seeds into adjacent disturbed forests as well as into native forests (Wiles, 1987; PIER, 2012). This species is shade-tolerant and thus it can establish in the understory of forests. Once established, it grows forming dense-spiny thickets altering native plant communities. In the understory of native forests, T. trifolia grows taller than native plants and consequently smothers these plants, out-competing them for light and water (Clark, 2003; Daley et al., 2012).
Impact on Biodiversity
On Mona Island (Puerto Rico), the endemic and endangered iguana Cyclura cornuta stejnegeri has been impacted by the presence of T. trifolia. On this island, sites in the sandy coastal forests which provide areas with suitable environmental conditions for nesting iguanas were colonized by T. trifolia, limiting nesting sites for the iguana (Pérez-Buitrago et al., 2010; Rojas-Sandoval, personal observation).
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Tolerant of shade
- Highly mobile locally
- Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
- Long lived
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Loss of medicinal resources
- Monoculture formation
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Threat to/ loss of endangered species
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Competition - shading
- Competition - smothering
- Competition - strangling
- Pest and disease transmission
- Produces spines, thorns or burrs
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
UsesTop of page
T. trifolia is commonly used an ornamental in tropical and subtropical regions. It is popular among landscapers as a consequence of its fragrant flowers and bright-red fruits that attract birds to gardens. This species is also commercialized as a boundary or hedge plant, mainly because it adapts well to the frequent and severe pruning required to create a natural hedge. Plants of T. trifolia are also grown for their fruits. Fruits are acid but edible and they can be consumed in preserved, jams, and beverages (Verheij and Coronel, 1991; Burkill, 1994).
T. trifolia is also used in traditional medicine in South East Asia. Leaves exude a resinous scent when bruised, and the plant is considered antifungal and antibacterial and used to treat colic, diarrhea, and skin afflictions. Fruits are used for coughs and sore throats (Burkill, 1994).
Chemical compounds extracted from leaves and stems of T. trifolia have been evaluated for their inhibitory effects against herpes simplex virus (HSV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (Likhitwitayawuid et al., 2005; Dondon et al., 2006). A recent study evaluating the inhibitory potential of 13 coumarins from T. trifolia demonstrated that it can be targeted as a prospective species for anti-HSV and HIV drug development (Likhitwitayawuid et al., 2005).
Uses ListTop of page
- Boundary, barrier or support
Human food and beverage
- Beverage base
- Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
- Seed trade
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
T. trifolia is a difficult species to control. It has flexible stems that are very difficult to cut with a machete or remove by hand. Seedlings and young plants should be pulled up and removed from treated areas. Fruits and fruiting branches should be also removed from treated areas. Larger trees should be cut with special machinery, and follow-up treatments are required to control sprouts (Daley et al., 2012).
Gaps in Knowledge/Research NeedsTop of page
- Studies on the history of introduction of this species are highly recommended.
- Studies on reproductive biology and breeding systems.
- Studies evaluating the impact of this exotic species on native plants and natural communities are needed in order to develop appropriate management and control strategies.
- Recommendations for management and control in natural areas invaded by this species are also needed.
ReferencesTop of page
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ContributorsTop of page
13/11/12 Original text by:
Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA
Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA
Distribution MapsTop of page
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