Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Jujube

The Jujube is an uncommon fruit in the West, but very well known in the East.

Common Name: Jujube, Chinese/Korean/Indian Date, Tsao
Scientific Name: Ziziphus zizyphus (a.k.a. Ziziphus jujuba)
Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn family)
Description:
The Jujube is a small, drooping, deciduous tree or large shrub with prominent thorns (in most varieties) and small, dark, shiny leaves.  The Jujube will produce a small fruit (0.5-2 inches / 1.5-5 cm in diameter) with thin, edible skin that can be eaten fresh and is reminiscent of an apple, or it can be left on the tree will it will shrivel, darken, and dry and looks and tastes like a date.  

The Jujube can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions, but a warm to hot summer and plenty of water will give the highest yields.  It spreads easily by root suckers and seed, so left unchecked, it can produce a thicket.  We can use that to our advantage in using this plant for a hedge or windbreak.

I have yet to try one of these fruits, but considering the long history of cultivation, the large number of varieties (over 400!), and the long list of uses (see below), I think it is safe to say that while rare in the U.S., there is ample reason to include this tree in my future forest garden.  I am hoping to find some fruit to sample this coming summer.

Illustration of Ziziphus zizyphus by Adolphus Ypey, 1813
Tab. 54 from Adolphus Ypey, Vervolg ob de Avbeeldingen der artseny-gewassen met derzelver Nederduitsche en Latynsche beschryvingen, Eersde Deel, 1813

History:
Likely originating in what is southern Asia, some scholars believe as early at 9,000 BC.  Over 400 cultivars have been developed in many parts of Asia.  

Trivia:

  • The leaves, fruit, and bark are used extensively in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine, and in many places in India and Africa.
  • The most expensive honey in the world is made from flowers of a close relative, Ziziphus spina-christi (Christ's Thorn Jujube or Sidr Tree).  The honey sells for about $100 USD per 1 lb (~500 grams).
  • The resin (called Lac) secreted from the scale insect (Kerria lacca) after it feeds on another close tropical relative of the Jujube tree (Ziziphus mauritiana) is refined and used to make a high quality shellac for fine lacquer work.
  • The Jujube was first introduced in Texas in 1875.
USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating
  • Dried - eaten as is or mixed in delicacies, often cooked
  • Smoked
  • Cooking and baking - use fresh as you would apples, use dried as you would dates

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Shade tree
  • Windbreak
  • Hedge
  • Erosion control
  • Can be preserved, stored in liquor - known as jiu zao ("spirited jujube")
  • Alcohol from distilled fermented fruit pulp
  • Used as flavoring in teas
  • Dried fruit can be used as a coffee substitute 
  • Juiced
  • Jams, Jellies
  • Vinegared
  • Pickled
  • Fruit Butter - make like apple butter
  • Candied
  • Dried fruit can be ground into a powder and used in a variety of ways
  • Young leaves can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable, but not reported to have a great flavor
  • Can be coppiced
  • Firewood
  • Charcoal
  • Woodworking - wood is hard and strong and close-grained
  • Bark and root used in dyeing (brown, grey, or reddish colors)
  • Bark and root used in tanning


Yield: 20-60 lbs (9-27 kg) per year
Harvesting: Mid summer - autumn.  However, Jujube Trees will flower through the whole growing season with fruit ripening throughout the middle to end of the growing season.  The fruit will not ripen off the tree.
Storage: Fresh fruit does not keep well (about a week), but dried fruits can last for months in a cool, dry environment

Ziziphus zizyphus has small, almost non-descript flowers, but bees like them!

Great image showing the leaves of the Jujube.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
Chill Requirement: 50-450 hours/units depending on the species and variety

Plant Type: Small Tree to Large Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Tree for small Forest Garden, Sub-Canopy (Understory), Shrub
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available (over 400!). 

Pollination: Most require cross-pollination.  While many are Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile, yields with these cultivars are likely higher with cross-pollination
Flowering: April-May (late spring through summer), but will often flower throughout the growing season

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 3-4 years from seed
Years to Maximum Bearing: No good data, but likely just a few years after fruit production begins
Years of Useful Life: No good data, but many reports show this to be a long lived tree
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 16-32 feet (5-10 meters) tall and 23 feet (7 meters) wide
Roots: Forms a main, deep taproot, but it is also suckering (the tree will send up shoots from the roots many feet from the main tree)
Growth Rate: Fast


GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates very light shade (less than 25%)
Moisture: Tolerates a wide variety of moisture levels
pH: Tolerates a wide pH range

Special Considerations for Growing:
None really.  Bright sun and hot summers will give best fruit yields.  Likely not tolerate of juglones (so don't plant next to walnuts).

Propagation:  Suckering: divide from mother plant during dormant season..  Seed (requires 3 months stratification).  Cuttings: use mature wood of the same season's growth, try to keep at 40-50 F (5-10 C) - a greenhouse in the winter months is ideal.  With all methods, try to place plant in permanent location as soon as possible to prevent damage of the main taproot.

Maintenance:
Minimal.  Some branches will often die back each year.  While there are a few pests in its home range, in North America, there are almost no pest or disease problems.

Concerns:
Can spread easily through seed or root suckering.  

7 comments:

  1. I tried my first Jujube this last summer. It was really good. It tasted and had the consistency of a small apple. We found them for sale in an Asian grocery store in Houston Texas. I have been looking for nursery plants of the Li and Lang variety but they are expensive, almost double the price of a common apple tree.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's great! Glad you liked them.

    I figured they will be a bit more expensive than the more common fruit trees. I think one of the biggest issues will be in locating them or in expense in getting them shipped to you, that is unless you are fortunate to live in a place that happens to grow a lot of them.

    Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Great site. Thanks for all the info about Jujube. I have a very productive jujube fruits for more than 15 years now. Last year, I started seeing little suckers popping up in my backyard lawn some was as far as 30 feet from the jujube tree. Today I dug 4 to 6 inches deep around the suckers and found extensive root network, some were about an inch diameter invading portion of lawn. Any suggestions to prevent such growth?

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  6. Just break open the endocarp and plant the seed. They'll germinate w/o cold stratification.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I live in zone 2 (Saskatchewan, Canada). Is it possible to grow outside in a pot then bring inside for the winter?

    ReplyDelete