The Chinese Jujube - August 17, 2011
Jeff Schalau, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
The Chinese Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) can grow to about 40 feet tall, has shiny foliage, flaky, light gray bark, and an upright trunk with pendulous branches. These trees are not common anywhere in Arizona, but every once in a while, you find one. A specimen is at the University of Arizona Campus Arboretum (see pictures on the link below). I have also seen them in Peeples Valley in western Yavapai County. In summer, you may see them covered with small, shiny, edible fruits. This tough tree is well-suited to Arizona’s deserts and would do well in the Verde Valley.
Also known as the Chinese date, Chinese jujube is a member of the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae) which makes it a distant relative of the Ceanothus: a genera of native shrubs. It has been cultivated for over 4,000 years in China. Seedlings were introduced to the U.S. in 1837 but cultivars were not introduced until 1908. Eighty three varieties were introduced by 1914. They were never widely planted in orchards even though over 400 cultivars have been selected for cultivation.
Chinese jujubes are deciduous and can tolerate cold winters to -28 degrees F. They have a low chilling requirement allowing them to produce fruit in areas having mild winters. Long, hot summers are necessary to ripen good fruit crops. Flowers are small, approximately, 1/5 inch diameter, white, somewhat fragrant, and produced in large numbers in leaf axils. Flowering period extends over several months from late spring into summer. Most jujube cultivars produce some fruit without cross pollination, but reports from California indicate yields are much higher when two or more different cultivars are planted together. Pollination is done by bees and flies.
The fruit varies from almost perfectly round to elongated and from cherry-size to plum-size depending on cultivar. It has a thin, edible skin surrounding whitish sweet flesh. The single hard stone contains two seeds. The immature fruit is green in color, but mahogany-colored spots appear on the skin as the fruit ripens, and the fully mature fruit is entirely brown. Shortly after becoming fully brown, the crisp fruit begins to soften and wrinkle. The fruit can be eaten after it becomes wrinkled, but most people prefer them during the 3-5 day interval between the first appearance of the brown color and the time when wrinkling begins. The crop ripens non-simultaneously, and fruit can be picked for several weeks from a single tree.
Jujubes tolerate many types of soils, but prefer sandy, well-drained soils. They are also able to grow in soils with high salinity or high alkalinity. Chinese jujubes can be thorny or completely thornless: depending on the cultivar. They can also produce suckers originating from adventitious buds on the roots. Although the Chinese jujube tree will tolerate drought, regular irrigation is necessary to assure a quality fruit crop. Fertilizer requirements have not been studied, but jujubes appear to do well with little or no fertilization. The Chinese jujube appears to have no serious disease, insect, or nematode pests in the U.S. The University of California Davis has indicated that they are susceptible to decay causing fungi if physically damaged.
As mentioned previously, Chinese jujube trees are not widely available. Seedlings will have varying fruit qualities and should be grafted for fruit production. Varieties “Li” and “Lang” may be the most readily available, but interest is increasing and more varieties should become commercially available. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any local growers or nurseries that stock Chinese jujubes. I did find several references on the Internet, but this would require out of state shipping and could involve quarantine issues. They may also be available at specialty nurseries in Tucson or Phoenix.
Chinese jujube has some ethnobotanical uses. The first record of this plant being used as something other than a fruit was about 3,000 years ago in China. The dried kernel of the Chinese jujube was found to be a good sedative/hypnotic in the treatment of insomnia and neurasthenia. The plant is also used in many cultures to make a tea for sore throats. If you like unusual tree fruits and have some extra space, seek out the Chinese jujube.
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Link to the Chinese jujube at the University of Arizona Campus Arboretum:
| Arizona Cooperative Extension
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
Last Updated: December 2, 2014
Content Questions/CDecember 2, 2014g.arizona.edu