Ochna serrulata: Mickey mouse plant

Family: Ochnaceae
Common name: Mickey mouse plant, Mickey mouse bush, Small-leaved plane, Carnival ochna, Bird’s eye bush, Carnival bush

Mickey mouse plants are grown in home gardens as ornamental plants, growing to a height of 6 meters, flowering profusely during spring and summer. The stem is woody and brown even towards the tip of the plants.

Leaves are dark green, glossy, serrated along the edges, and about 4-6 cm long. The saw-like serrations at the edges of the leaves give the plant its name ‘serrulata’. Mickey mouse plants produce small, 5-petaled yellow flowers that are very short-lived.

Once the yellow petals fall away, the flowers develop thick red petals with a bulged center that contains large berry-like fruits. These fruits are initially light green, later turning dark green, red, and then deep purple or black.

The combination of red petals with mickey-mouse ear-like berries gives the plant its name ‘Mickey mouse plant’. The thick red flowers and berries that project out from them make the plant unique and very attractive. This is one of the reasons Mickey mouse plants are now grown all over the world as ornamental plants.

These plants are tolerant of drought and partial shade, but they prefer bright sunlight and well-drained soil. The flowers are very attractive to butterflies, insects, and honey bees making them ideal garden plants for homes, butterfly parks, or even roadsides. They are native to the African continent but are now seen in countries all over the world.

These plants will do well with a slight pruning after the flowering season to keep them thick and bushy. They love regular watering and fertilization giving results in a short time, though they can also grow with very little care and attention. They are considered difficult to kill once the plants are established in the soil.

Seeds fall to the ground and sprout new plants which can be replanted away from the parent plant to avoid crowding. Seedlings should be teased out gently from the ground to prevent the tap root from snapping. These plants are considered invasive weeds in some countries.

Parts of this plant have antibacterial and antioxidant properties, and are used in the treatment of cuts and wounds. They can be pruned and grown as hedge plants because of thick, bushy branches that prevent the entry of cattle and foraging animals.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.