The Rare- and Prolific Tasty Fruit of the Chinese Jujube
The Chinese Jujube Tree (Chinese Date), Ziziphus zizyphus. The Chinese Jujube was introduced formally into the U.S. in 1908 by the USDA that imported exceptional Chinese cultivars from China, Japan, Korea and Indochina. About 50 of these trees were established at the University of GA Experimental Station under the supervision of the Mr. Otis J. Woodard at Tifton, GA and other plantings were made in LA and CA. The planting of the rare Chinese Jujube trees at Tifton, GA caused much local excitement and many Tiftonites tried unsuccessfully to root the branches, and others tried planting the seeds of the Chinese jujube, but none of the resulting seedlings produced jujube fruit as fine as the original trees established by the USDA. Mr. Otis J. Woodard, the appointed horticulturist, who grafted some of the limbs from the USDA imported Chinese jujube onto wild thorny seedling rootstocks and distributed some of the grafted Chinese jujube trees to local friends, and other researchers at various agricultural stations throughout the U.S. The jujube Tifton orchard was totally demolished in the mid-last century to make room for a research orchard pecan tree research plot. Many unique Chinese jujube cultivars were lost in the destruction of the jujube Tifton, GA orchard, but some have survived in the yards of Tiftonites, and hopefully other jujube trees are still growing at scattered locations in the U.S.
The jujube tree has been grown in practically every area of the U.S., where the trees can survive cold temperatures as low as -25 F. The jujube tree produces large crops of fruit every year, and the jujube tree has no known insect or disease problems. The records of Chinese archaeologists record that the Chinese jujube trees have been cultivated in China for 4000 years. However, other Internet commentators claim the jujube in Ancient Israel, Syria and Jordan is firmly discussed in several scriptural verses from the Holy Bible, including the Book of Judges. The firm presence of jujube in these ancient civilizations has been established, but the record is not clear about the thorny plant described in the Book of Judges, since accurate plant taxonomy was not existent until the botanist, Linnaeus, began to establish rules for plant nomenclature. The jujube fruit that evolved in the ancient Mideast societies does not have the fruit size or the quality that the Chinese developed in their selection and possible hybridization. It is probable that the jujube that grows in the Mideast today grew from seeds brought by ancient caravan traders from China and were planted to grow and improve by selection in Syria, Jordan and Israel.
The Chinese jujube tree can survive cold temperatures as low as -25 F, by the tree also thrives in the sultry heat of the deep South. The jujube tree does not require much winter chilling to initiate a heavy crop of fruit, and the late flowering of the tree allows the bloom leading to a fruit production immunity to late frosts in Northern States.
The zigzag pattern of the branch growth is unusual and looks bizarre in the winter on leafless branches, and the gnarled appearance of the trunk and branches makes this tree a choice landscape tree for the gardener who is looking for something different, for something as an ornamental specimen of accent tree. The shiny leaves of the jujube tree are green, waxy and beautiful, reflecting light like small mirrors. The tree of the Chinese jujube grows a massive root system and care must be taken when digging under grafted jujube trees not to cut roots radiating from the jujube tree, or else a thorny insipid seedling of low fruit value will arise from the cut root just like in the case of crape myrtle tree.
The fruit of the Chinese jujube can be round or elongated like a kumquat citrus plant. The size of the grafted jujube fruit varies greatly, from the size of a Nagami kumquat to a golf ball. As the jujube fruit begins to ripen in the months of July and August, the the color can change from green to burgundy to brown and that coloring period is the prime time to eat the jujube fruit. The jujube fruit ripens over a long period of time, and if left on the tree, the fruit will develop a honey sweetness that is delicious and will last indefinitely when preserved air tight. When eaten fresh from the tree, the jujube is crunchy, if collected before wrinkling begins, and the flavor is slightly tart with a flavor and aroma of the apple. The jujube fruit contains two black seed that can be discarded. The Chinese jujube growers harvest much of the crop for drying, and the dried jujube can be stored successfully for months to reap the year round health benefits that have been extolled by the Chinese for centuries.
The chartruese flowers of the jujube are small and inconspicuous and pleasantly fragrant in the spring. The jujube tree should be purchased as a mailorder dormant tree during fall and winter, because it does not grow well as a containerized tree. The Chinese jujube tree is easy to buy from internet nurseries and survives well in most any climate and in dry soils or wet; and large jujube trees often bear fruit the first year. Usually the jujube does not require cross pollination, but it's a good idea to plant two different cultivars in Southern locations where spring rains can abort jujube fruit formation. The jujube tree, once established, grows into the shape of a Japanese flowering weeping cherry tree. An interested gardener should always buy a grafted Chinese jujube cultivar, because the seedling jujube trees produce small marble-sized fruit with large seed and the unpredictable taste of the small pulp.
The Chinese have established over the centuries great herbal remedies for all parts of the jujube tree with more use for the dried fruit, which is said to improve liver problems and to dehydrate the body and sooth the vital organs of the body. The Chinese believe the jujube can cure coughs and the sore throat, and even eliminate influenza symptoms or solve breathing problems that result from the lungs. The continuous usage of jujube, according to the Chinese, will improve skin color and cure skin infections. Lastly, the Chinese believe that the jujube fruit will kill internal body and stomach parasites and worms. Very few plants or trees are revered and loved by the Chinese as the jujube tree for the naturalistic medical remedies that result from treatment with fruit and plant extracts from the Chinese jujube.