There are two tree species that are commonly called brush cherry: Syzygium paniculatum and Syzygium australe. Both species belong to the Myrtaceae family of plants and are evergreen trees native to eastern Australia's rain forests. Both are also grown as garden plants and are similar in appearance, with glossy, dark green, oval-shaped leaves; white flowers growing in clusters; and edible fruit that usually is red in color. These two types of trees previously were classified as a single species under the name Eugenia australis, but botanists have revised this and now classify them as two separate species.
Most commonly, the term "brush cherry" refers to different varieties of the species Syzygium paniculatum, a popular garden plant not only in its native Australia but also in North America, especially in areas with a relatively warm climate, such as Florida and California. It is a plant known by many names, including its old Latin name, Eugenia myrtifolia. In Australia, it is sometimes called a magenta lilly pilly or magenta cherry, and in the United States, it is sometimes referred to as a Monterey Bay.
This type of brush cherry tree grows to a height of about 35 feet (10 m) in the Australian rain forest, but in a garden setting, it can quite easily be trimmed to smaller sizes. These trees can be used as topiary plants or as garden shrubs, they can be grown as hedges or screens, or they can be allowed to grow to their full size. Smaller varieties are available as potted plants, and some can even be used as bonsai trees, growing barely more than 12 inches (30 cm) tall. This versatility when it comes to size is one reason for the popularity of this particular cherry.
The other brush cherry species, Syzygium australe, is a common garden plant in Australia, where it is also called a scrub cherry. In the wild, it can grow up to 80 feet (25 m) tall, but it usually is much smaller when cultivated. Some varieties grow only about 7 feet (2 m) tall. Trees of this species are commonly grown as hedges and shrubs in Australian gardens.
Both species of brush cherry trees prefer to grow in partial sun or partial shade and in rich, consistently moist soil. They grow best in warmer climates, preferably in temperate to subtropical temperatures. The fruit produced by both kinds of brush cherry trees is round, cherry-sized and usually dark red, but it can be pink, purple or even black. It can be eaten fresh or made into jam, and the flavor is reminiscent of sour apples.