JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
ZIZIPHUS jujuba var. inermis
Plant Common Name
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A small deciduous fruit tree that bears at a young age and flourishes under the toughest conditions, this native of China and Southeast Asia has been cultivated in that region for 4000 years. Upright and oval with drooping branchlets, it usually grows as a multi-stemmed tree unless trained otherwise. Paired spines may be present along the branches and at the base of leaves. The glossy, rich green, oval leaves have three prominent lighter colored veins. Numerous small clusters of tiny, fruitily scented, yellowish green flowers appear in the leaf axils in spring. Round, oval, or pear-shaped fruits follow, maturing from green to red to deep red-brown. The leaves turn yellow in fall.
The thin-skinned, white-fleshed, single-stoned fruits vary from pea-sized to date-sized. Fruits harvested as they redden have a sweet flavor and apple-like texture, and are best eaten fresh or made into preserves. Fruits soften and wrinkle after they turn red, developing a sweet flavor reminiscent of dates. Ripe fruits are excellent dried, candied, or in preserves.
Jujube grows most vigorously and fruits most heavily in full sun and sandy or loamy soil. It does relatively poorly in wet or heavy soil. This fruit tree's list of tolerances is lengthy and impressive: drought, heat, cold, alkaline soil, and saltspray. Plants must have both winter cold and summer heat to fruit, although the required cold period is very brief. In truly tropical areas fruiting may be sporadic at best.
Use jujube as a dual purpose shade and fruit tree, keeping in mind that fruit and leaf litter may be a nuisance in areas frequented by pedestrians and cars. Scores of jujube cultivars are grown, most of them available only in Asia. Large, pear-shaped fruits are found on the nearly spineless 'Lang', while 'Li' has early fruits and a narrow habit. Many selected forms have few or no spines. A companion cultivar may be required for fruiting.
This tree has naturalized, sometimes invasively, in many areas outside its native range.