Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Fruit & Nut Trees

Give Jujube a Try

by Edward T. Hager

Gardeners who visit my backyard garden-orchard in Thousand Oaks, California, usually ask why I have so many jujube trees. My answer is easy: No other tree gives me so much pleasure for so little effort.

The jujube (pronounced juh-ju-bee or juh-juh-bee) is a member of the buckthorn family, or Rhamnaceae. Its botanical name is Ziziphus jujuba, and its common names is Chinese jujube, or sometimes, just jujube. Though the plant's origin is probably Syria, it was distributed throughout much of the Mediterranean region at least 3,000 years ago and today is most widely grown in China.

This deciduous tree grows 12 to 15 feet tall, although trees are known to reach 30 feet. (The largest known jujube tree in the United States, at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens, measures over 40 feet high and wide.) Over time trees develop a graceful, gnarled shape. Most varieties have thorns on young branches. Its leaves are 1 to 2 inches long, leathery, and shiny bright green. Tiny yellow-green flowers are about 1/4-inch wide.

Fruits ripen in late summer to early fall. Many people enjoy them fresh, after they turn from green to brown, but before they dry and shrivel. At that stage, their flavor and texture is something like a very sweet apple, but not as juicy. Unlike most fruits, jujube will dry on the tree after ripening. Although dried jujubes are not as sweet as true dates, its sugars do concentrate, and the flavor is very similar. Dried fruits require no preservative, and they last "forever"--I've pressed several growers on this point, and all agree--though humidity in some regions may slow drying and limit the life of dried fruits.

Where to Grow Jujube

Jujube grows throughout most of the southern half of North America. For best crops, the tree needs a long growing season and hot and dry weather during ripening. About the only parts of the United States where jujube can't grow are in the North (USDA Zones 5 and colder) and the Gulf Coast where summer rain and humidity prevent optimum fruiting.

Trees thrive in most of California, from interior valleys in the north to the Sierra foothills, and throughout the southern region of the state. In Oregon, the region surrounding Medford is well suited. In the southwest deserts, trees grow well from Palmdale in California to Las Vegas and in Arizona from Bisbee to Phoenix. Most of Texas from Houston north to Muskogee, Oklahoma, is jujube country, then east to the Atlantic seaboard and as far north as Trenton, New Jersey.

Although average winter minimum temperatures between -5° F (zone 6) and -15° F (zone 5) are the likely hardiness limits, trees have survived -25° F.

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