Six months ago I purchased a small plant because of its attractive leaves. It was not marked with a name tag. Now the plant has become a small tree. I have not been able to identify the plant and hope you could assist. I keep it in the office for fear it may be poisonous to my cat at home. As best I can describe it the plant has the following characteristics:
-The main Stem is bronze-green in color and tree like with a main stem that is perhaps an inch wide.
-Branches form on opposite sides of the main stem and are slight unaligned from one another.
-The leaves are lanced shaped leaves - lighter green when newly formed with a reddish undertone when immature; but at the base the older leaves are darker green.
-Its flowers are from a single stem but are in clusters of 7 to 10 flowers (each flower is small pink-white color with 5 petals and star shaped )
-The fruit or berry is hanging from a single stem and is black or dark purple color but is shaped like a button instead of a berry
Well, after some research, I believe that Katherine and I were able to identify your mystery plant to genus. That is to say, we have not yet identified exactly what the plant is, but we were able to come up with the broader name and family of the plant.
To the best of our knowledge, the plant you have is a kind of Ardisia. Ardisia is in the plant family Myrsinaceae. In the genus Ardisia there are about 250 species of different tropical trees and shrubs. They are native to warmer parts of Asia, but have been introduced to Hawaii and more tropical parts of the Americas. Our guess is that it was grown down in Florida and shipped up here for sale like so many tropical foliage plants are these days. Generally Ardisia have that five-pointed flower and then set clusters of fruit. The more common kinds of Ardisia have red fruit, but I found some (Ardisia escallonoides, Ardisia solanacea, etc.) that have black fruit that look similar to what you have. Regardless of what the species is, your plant will want to grow into large woody shrub. It would not survive the winters outside, so it does need to stay indoors over winter to survive. Some only grow to 2’, but others can grow to 5’ or larger. As you have been, you want to keep the plant in bright light and keep the soil moist during the active growing season (spring, summer, and early fall). In winter you can cut down on the water because as the days get shorter the plant goes into more of a resting period. As far as your pets, I have not found any mention of Ardisia being poisonous. In fact one account said that the berries were edible, but I would not recommend trying them.
Since this plant has grown extremely fast; how can I best keep it manageable?
Can I prune the lower leaves?
Since I cannot be certain of the fruits; would removing the berries as they form disrupt the plant's natural growing cycle?
I forgot to mention in my last email that there is a kind of Ardisia that is considered a popular houseplant. It is called Ardisia crenata, or commonly known as coral berry. Originally I would have thought that you had a coral berry, but that plant is known to have bright red fruit and I know yours has black fruit. If the fruit is red before maturing to black, then perhaps you have a coral berry after all. If that is the case, (and that is a pretty big “if”), then you might be happy to know that a potted coral berry usually only gets to 3 feet or a little larger. Either way, yes, you can prune it as you wish. Pruning the lower limbs should be fine, but remember that pruning promotes new growth, so the shrub will continue to grow tall. Eventually if the plant gets pot-bound then it will naturally begin to not grow as quickly. But for now, as long as the roots keep growing and spreading so will the foliage. As far as the fruit, I do not see how taking off the fruit would affect the plant at all. In some cases, removing plants flowers before they get the chance to develop can encourage the plant to grow more stems and leaves and try again to produce a flower because their whole mission as a plant is to produce that flower and have that flower be pollinated. Once that has happened, and the flower has matured to a fruit, I do not see how removing them would encourage the plant in one way or another.