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Jujubes (photo courtesy of Emilio Ereza/Alamy)
Jujubes (photo courtesy of Emilio Ereza/Alamy)

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Zones 6-16, 18-24, H1
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Moderate, Minimal

Jujube

Rhamnaceae
Deciduous, Edible fruit, Trees

Known botanically as Ziziphus jujuba and pronounced joo-JOOB, jujube has been cultivated for millennia in its native China. Its datelike fruit grows on a tree to 15–20 ft. (possibly 30 ft.) tall and 10–15 ft. wide. Branches are spiny, gnarled, and somewhat pendulous. Glossy green, 1 1/2-in. leaves have three prominent veins and turn yellow in fall. Clusters of small yellowish flowers appear in late spring or summer. Round to oval fruit with a central pit matures in fall; it can be eaten fresh or dried. Attractive silhouette, foliage, and fruit, as well as toughness, make this a good decorative tree, especially for the high desert.

The dried fruits look and taste like dates—for that reason, the plant is sometimes called Chinese date. Fruit may not ripen fully on the tree in cool-summer areas; pick at half-brown stage and ripen indoors. Fruit of seedling trees is 1/2–1 in. long.

The two most common cultivated varieties are ‘Lang’, with 1 1/2–2-in., elongated fruit, and ‘Li’, bearing 2-in., round fruit with a very small pit. ‘Lang’ needs ‘Li’ as a pollenizer; ‘Li’ is more productive with ‘Lang’ planted nearby, though it will produce some fruit if planted alone. ‘Sherwood’ does especially well in hot-summer climates; it has fewer spines. There is also a contorted form.

Deep rooted and drought-tolerant, jujube takes well to desert conditions. It is also very cold-hardy but not productive in short-summer areas. Takes saline and alkaline soils but grows better in good garden soil and thrives in lawns if there is adequate drainage (though suckering from roots can be a problem, particularly in moist soil).

No serious pests, but is subject to Texas root rot in deserts. Prune in winter to shape and encourage a weeping habit, or to reduce size. Harvest when fruit begins to turn from yellow-green to reddish brown; it has a crisp texture and tastes like a sweet apple. If allowed to turn completely brown and become mushy, the fruit is better for drying.

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