jujube, also known as the Chinese date, thrives in our
Texas climate. It requires little care once established
and lives a very long, productive life. So why is it so
little known in our state and the country as a whole? To
find the answer to that question we have to go back to
the early 1900s when the first improved varieties were
introduced to growers in the U.S. by the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Frank N. Meyer,
a plant explorer employed by the USDA, went to China in
1908 and started cataloging plants and trees that we did
not have in this country. One such group of trees was
the improved varieties of jujubes. Although the wild,
very small fruited, jujube had been imported to the
United States from Europe in the 1800s, it was not very
good and of little value. These improved varieties were
much better, and the USDA thought that they had a chance
to become a great fruit for the Southwestern United
States. Since they can grow on as little as 8 inches of
rainfall a year, the thought was that they were ideal
for many of the drier states, including Texas.
the mid 1920s, the USDA at Chico, California, (where the
plant introduction station was located) had sent
propagated jujube selections to Texas and Oklahoma. Here
is where the problem with public acceptance came into
play. They had released several varieties with little
information on exactly what to do with the fruit. They
just thought that all fruit was good to be eaten fresh
off the tree when it ripened. The Chinese, on the other
hand, had developed the improved jujubes for several
purposes. The first and foremost was to make dried dates
from the fruit. The varieties that were intended to make
dried fruit were not very tasty for eating fresh. So you
got a sweet but dry tasting fruit when picked fresh from
the tree. What the USDA did not seem to know was that
the Chinese did have jujube varieties that were very
good for fresh eating but only one of these varieties
was imported and distributed by the USDA. Most of the
varieties introduced were for drying or other
So, the jujube got a bad rap (in
today's lingo). The one variety that was intended by the
Chinese as a multipurpose variety, including fresh
eating, is 'Li'; but it is not the very best for the
purpose. The better varieties for fresh eating were not
imported by the USDA at all. The USDA at Chico did
develop 'Chico' (or 'GI 7-62') in the 1950s that is good
for fresh eating, but it was not in the original
distribution and few people became aware it existed. It
was not until the 1990s that the first batch of truly
good tasting fresh eating jujube varieties were imported
into the United States and then by a private individual.
Since that time other good fresh eating varieties have
been imported, including two that were released for sale
Now, with these new varieties, we have
jujubes that should be considered by all gardeners in
Texas because of several reasons - the first, of course,
is the new varieties taste good; second, they take
little care after the first couple of years; third, they
do not require any sprays and can be grown organically;
and, fourth, they do not take much water once
With all this talk of taste, what do
they taste like? The new fresh eating varieties taste
like a very sweet apple when eaten fresh. Most people
who taste these new varieties say that they taste great.
Now, the varieties intended for drying taste very dry
and mealy when eaten fresh (they just were not intended
to be eaten fresh).
When dried, jujubes truly
have a taste very much like a date. The fruit, when
processed into jujube butter, was rated better than
apple butter by the people at Texas A&M, some years ago.
There are many other products made from jujubes,
including whole pickled jujubes (like pickled crab
apples), smoked jujubes, honey or sugar jujubes and
spirit jujubes. And the fresh fruit can be used in place
of apples in any recipe. Just peel and remove the single
seed inside to use in your apple recipes. I would
suggest the use of the larger jujube varieties in place
of apples - varieties like 'Li,' 'Shanxi Li' and 'Chico'
('GI-7-62'). They take less time to prepare.
There are more than 700 varieties of
jujubes in China. In the United States we have slightly
more than 40 varieties currently. Several of the
varieties in the U.S. have more than one name. The
variety developed by the USDA in the 1950s was
originally called 'GI 7-62,' referring to the place in
the row of trees being tested. Fruit growers gave it the
name 'Chico' in memory of the abandoned Fruit
Introduction Station at Chico, California. Then, there
is the 'Yu' variety that was renamed 'Silverhill' and
renamed again as 'Tigertooth,' the name that is
currently in use. 'Tigertooth' can be grown in areas
that have high humidity (most jujubes like dry weather).
The better varieties for fresh use are 'Honey Jar,'
'Sugar Cane,' 'Li,' 'Shanxi Li,' 'Sherwood' and 'Chico'
('GI 7-62'). Of these the largest is 'Shanxi Li' and the
smallest is 'Honey Jar.' 'Honey Jar' is the juiciest.
'Chico' ('GI 7-62') matures in mid to late season and
'Sherwood' is the last of these to ripen in early
October. 'Li,' 'Shanxi Li,' 'Honey Jar' and 'Sugar Cane'
ripen in August and early September. Also, a 2007
introduction called 'Winter Delight' is a good variety;
at least in China it is considered a top variety.
The best drying varieties are 'Lang,' 'Li' and
'Shanxi Li.' But any jujube can be dried. The smaller
varieties do not dry well unless you are very careful
and watch them closely so that they do not get too dry.
You want them spongy, not hard as rock, for a good dried
For processing, any jujube variety can be
used. If you are making whole pickled jujubes, 'Chico'
makes a nice looking finished product. Jujube butter can
be made from any jujube. Use fruit that is in the
So is an ornamental variety,
called 'Contored,' which has limbs that go off in odd
directions, making a twisted tree form. It is very
beautiful in winter without its leaves. It has good
fruit in addition to its ornamental value.
A jujube tree is a medium sized
tree growing to 20 to 25 feet tall. The largest jujube
tree known in the United States is located in the Fort
Worth Botanical Gardens. It is 43 feet tall and has a
width of 34 feet. Jujubes live a long life, and there
are jujube trees growing in China that are 1,000 years
old. Here in Texas there are trees more than 70 years
old that are still bearing full crops of fruit.
Jujubes can be grown in a wide range of soil types from
sandy to clay. They have even been grown in rocky soils.
Areas with poor soils may be good for jujubes. Of
course, like most fruit trees, jujubes prefer a good
loamy soil and will grow faster in such soils. On the
poorer soils, jujubes will make a good tree, but grow a
Jujubes require only 200 to 400
hours of winter chilling (hours below 45ø) to fruit.
Therefore, they can be grown all across Texas from the
coast to the Texas Panhandle. They bloom in late April
and May, missing the March frosts that affect many fruit
Once established, jujubes can be
maintained on as little as 8 inches of rainfall a year.
They will not fruit well on 8 inches but they will live.
For good fruiting, they need a total of 20 or more
inches of water a year, but jujubes can surprise you.
During the dust bowl years of the 1930s, jujubes growing
at Dalhart, Texas, never failed to fruit.
do not tolerate shade well. They prefer full sun but
need little fertilizer. The only fertilizer that is
needed occasionally is nitrogen, especially on poor or
sandy soils. Compost worked into the soil is good for
those who prefer organic methods.
thing about jujubes is that they have few problems with
insects and diseases. As I.E. Cowart, a
horticulturalist, said many years ago, "Jujubes are easy
to grow, not affected by insects and diseases to much
extent and are drought resistant." Oh, birds can peck a
few fruit, and deer like to eat the fruit and sometimes
eat the leaves of the better varieties, but generally
jujubes are one of the easiest fruiting trees to grow.
As one fruit grower said, "they demand less and give
more than any other fruit tree we have. We love them."
Fruit size is anywhere from 3/4 of an inch for the
small and wild varieties to more than 2 inches for the
larger varieties such as 'Li.' There are three color
stages of fruit development: the green stage when they
are growing, the yellow-green stage when they start to
ripen and the red-brown stage of full ripe fruit. 'Honey
Jar' and the 'Li' variety can be picked in the
yellow-green stage for fresh eating, but most varieties
need to start turning red-brown to achieve the best
taste. The normal picking stage for fresh eating is when
the fruit is
1/4 to 1/2 red-brown. For making
processed products, picking in the yellow-green stage is
best. For drying, pick from the yellow-green stage up to
full red-brown and dry in a dehydrator. When jujubes are
spongy soft they are ready to take out of the
dehydrator. Do not over-dry because they can become very
hard. Dried jujubes can be stored for several years and
can be eaten dried or simmered in water to reconstitute.
All jujube varieties come into bearing early. Some
even fruit the first year of planting. Usually the
second year will see some fruit and by the third year
you should produce a good crop.
Pruning is not
recommended for jujubes other than to remove dead limbs
and clean up the lower branches. Any suckers coming from
below the graft union should also be removed.
Most jujube trees purchased from a nursery are grafted
onto wild jujube rootstock. These wild rootstocks tend
to sucker and will send up plantlets several feet away
from the tree. Because of this root suckering habit, it
is best not to plant trees next to the foundation of a
house. If planted in a lawn area the sprouts can be
easily mowed down and should never become a problem. In
cultivated areas you can get rid of any sprouts when you
'Lang' are the two most common jujube varieties found at
a nursery. 'Li' is a good multiple purpose variety and
can be eaten fresh or processed. 'Lang,' on the other
hand, is mainly a drying or processing variety that is
not very good eaten fresh. Most nurseries try to sell
the two varieties together because they think that
jujubes need cross pollination. But nearly all jujubes
are self-fruitful, meaning that you only need one tree
to produce fruit. There are, however, a few varieties
that need cross-pollination to get the best crops.
Richard Ashton is the
author of several books on fruit growing. The
Incredible Pomegranate - Plant and Fruit, Jujube - The
Chinese Date and his soon to be published book
Sweet Cherries for Southern Orchards are available
from Third Millennium Publishing at
www.3mpub.com/ashton or they can be purchased
through the Texas Gardener bookstore.
The Arbor Gate
San Antonio, TX
(has the ‘Li’ variety)
In addition to local nurseries, you can buy
trees that are shipped bareroot in the late
winter from these sources:
Burnt Ridge Nursery
(this nursery has
two good newly imported varieties available)