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 Perennial
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.
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Christmas Island (Indian Ocean)||Present||Native||PIER, 2012|
|Malaysia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Peninsular Malaysia||Present||Native||PIER, 2012|
|Sierra Leone||Present||Introduced||Burkill, 1994|
|USA||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Florida||Present||Introduced||Wunderlin and Hansen, 2008; USDA-ARS, 2012||Cultivated|
Central America and Caribbean
|Antigua and Barbuda||Widespread||Introduced||Broome et al., 2007|
|Bahamas||Present||Introduced||Correll and Correll, 1982|
|Barbados||Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Kairo et al., 2003|
|Belize||Present||Introduced||Balick et al., 2000|
|British Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012||Tortola|
|Cayman Islands||Present||Introduced||Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012|
|Cuba||Present||Introduced||González-Torres et al., 2012||Potentially invasive|
|Dominica||Widespread||Introduced||Broome et al., 2007|
|Dominican Republic||Present||Introduced||Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012|
|El Salvador||Present||Introduced||Linares, 2003||Cultivated|
|Grenada||Widespread||Introduced||Broome et al., 2007|
|Guadeloupe||Widespread||Introduced||Broome et al., 2007|
|Guatemala||Present||Introduced||Standley and Steyermark, 1946||Cultivated|
|Martinique||Widespread||Introduced||Broome et al., 2007|
|Montserrat||Widespread||Introduced||Broome et al., 2007|
|Netherlands Antilles||Present||Introduced||Mori et al., 2007||Saba, St. Martin, St. Eustatius|
|Puerto Rico||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Liogier, 1988||Weed. Also on Mona Island|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Widespread||Introduced||Broome et al., 2007||Nevis|
|Saint Lucia||Present||Introduced||Graveson, 2012||Cultivated|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Widespread||Introduced||Broome et al., 2007|
|United States Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Acevedo-Rodríguez, 1996; Chakroff, 2010; Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012||St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John|
|French Guiana||Present||Introduced||Funk et al., 2007||Escaped from cultivation|
|Guyana||Present||Introduced||Funk et al., 2007||Escaped from cultivation|
|Micronesia, Federated states of||Present||Introduced||PIER, 2012|
|Northern Mariana Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive||PIER, 2012|
|Papua New Guinea||Present||Introduced||PIER, 2012|
|Solomon Islands||Present||Native||PIER, 2012|
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|
|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)|
|Natural forests||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|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 Bimodal
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 Invasiveness
- 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
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
Acevedo-Rodríguez P, 1996. Flora of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden, 78:1-581.
Acevedo-Rodríguez P; Strong MT, 2012. Catalogue of the Seed Plants of the West Indies. Smithsonian Contributions to Botany, 98:1192 pp. Washington DC, USA: Smithsonian Institution. http://botany.si.edu/Antilles/WestIndies/catalog.htm
Balick MJ; Nee M; Atha DE, 2000. Checklist of the vascular plants of Belize. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden, 85:1-246.
Britton NL, 1918. Flora of Bermuda. New York, USA: Charles Scribner's Sons. 585 pp.
Broome R; Sabir K; Carrington S, 2007. Plants of the Eastern Caribbean. Online database. Barbados: University of the West Indies. http://ecflora.cavehill.uwi.edu/index.html
Burkill HM, 1994. Useful plants of the West Tropical Africa. Volumen 4, Families M-R. London, UK: Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, 981pp.
Chakroff M, 2010. Virgin Islands Forest Resources Assessment and Strategies. A comprehensive analysis of forest-related conditions, trends, threats and opportunities. Kingshill, Virgin Islands, USA: USDA Forest Service's International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Forestry Division, VI Department of Agriculture.
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Clark D, 2003. Weeds are Still "Weeds" in Paradise. Wildland Weeds, Winter:16-17. http://www.se-eppc.org/wildlandweeds/pdf/Winter2003-Clark-pp16-17.pdf
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Dondon R; Bourgeois P; Fery-Forgues S, 2006. A new bicoumarin from the leaves and stems of Triphasia trifolia. Fitoterapia, 77:129-133.
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2011. Florida EPPC's 2011 Invasive Plant Species List. http://www.fleppc.org/list/11list.html
Funk V; Hollowell T; Berry P; Kelloff C; Alexander SN, 2007. Checklist of the plants of the Guiana Shield (Venezuela: Amazonas, Bolivar, Delta Amacuro; Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana). Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, 584 pp.
González-Torres LR; Rankin R; Palmarola A (eds), 2012. Invasive plants in Cuba. (Plantas Invasoras en Cuba.) Bissea: Boletin sobre Conservacion de Plantad del Jardin Botanico Nacional, 6:1-140.
Graveson R, 2012. Plants of Saint Lucia. http://www.saintlucianplants.com
Guerra M; Santos KGBdos; Silva AEB; Ehrendorfer F, 2000. Heterochromatin banding pattern in Rutaceae-Aurantioideae: A case of parallel chromosomal evolution. American Journal of Botany, 87:735 - 747.
Halbert SE; Manjunath KL, 2004. Asian citrus psyllids (Sternorrhyncha: Psyllidae) and greening disease in citrus: a literature review and assessment of risk in Florida. Florida Entomologist, 87(3):330-353. http://www.fcla.edu/FlaEnt/
ISSG, 2012. Global Invasive Species Database (GISD). Auckland, New Zealand: University of Auckland. http://www.issg.org/database
Kairo M; Ali B; Cheesman O; Haysom K; Murphy S, 2003. Invasive species threats in the Caribbean region. Report to the Nature Conservancy. Curepe, Trinidad and Tobago: CAB International, 132 pp. http://www.issg.org/database/species/reference_files/Kairo%20et%20al,%202003.pdf
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Likhitwitayawuid K; Supudompol B; Sritularak B; Lipipun V; Rapp K; Schinazi RF, 2005. Phenolics with anti-HSV and anti-HIV activities from Artocarpus gomezianus, Mallotus pallidus, and Triphasia trifolia. Pharmaceutical Biology, 43(8):651-657.
Liogier AH, 1988. Flora of Puerto Rico and Adjacent Islands: A Systematic Synopsis. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.
Mori SA; Buck WR; Gracie CA; Tulig M, 2007. Plants and Lichens of Saba. [Virtual Herbarium of The New York Botanical Garden.] http://sweetgum.nybg.org/saba/
Pérez-Buitrago N; Sabat AM; McMillan WO, 2010. Spatial ecology of the Endangered Mona Island iguana Cyclura cornuta stejnegeri: Does territorial behavior regulate density? Herpetological Monographs, 24:86-110.
PIER, 2012. Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk. Honolulu, USA: HEAR, University of Hawaii. http://www.hear.org/pier/index.html
Randall RP, 2012. A global compendium of weeds, 2. Western Australia: Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, 1124 pp.
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Smith AC, 1985. Flora Vitiensis nova: a new flora of Fiji. Lawai, Kauai, Hawaii, USA: National Tropical Botanic Gardens, 758 pp.
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USDA-ARS, 2012. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysearch.aspx
Wiles GJ, 1987. The status of fruit bats on Guam. Pacific Science, 41:148-157.
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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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