This article appeared in the October 2002 web issue of Horticulture Update,
edited by Dr. William C. Welch, and produced by Extension Horticulture,
Texas Cooperative Extension, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas.

Jujube, Chinese Date, Zizyphus Jujuba

By Dr. William C. Welch
Landscape Horticulturist, Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas

very fall, I receive plant and fruit specimens of a curious brownish, date-like fruit for identification. Although it is as tough as any native plant, it is actually a Chinese date, or jujube. Jujubes grow and thrive in just about every county in Texas. They are not commonly found in nurseries, but are propagated by root sprouts, seeds, or by grafting. Root sprouts can be a problem if not mowed or removed. Jujubes can be identified from a distance by the nearly impenetrable thicket they often form if not maintained.

Chinese dates are among the most persistent and long-lived imported trees in the South. Some sources indicate that they were introduced from Europe by Robert Chisolm in 1837, and first planted in Beaufort, North Carolina. They have also been mentioned as being in the early Spanish missions in California, and were possibly brought to America at an earlier time.

They are thought to be native to Syria or China, and are widely distributed in the warmer parts of Europe, southern Asia, Africa, and Australia. The Chinese have been known to cultivate as many as 400 varieties of jujube, and have a great fondness for the fruit; it is sometimes processed with honey and sugar, and sold as a dessert confection. The jujube has been cultivated in China for hundreds of years. Roger Meyers, a member of the California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc., has published several articles on jujubes, and is attempting to research the names and provide sources for some of the best varieties that have been introduced in the past.

Jujubes can reach 50 feet tall, and have shiny, deciduous, dark green foliage and, sometimes, thorny stems. They are pruned and trained to much smaller plants at times. Flowers are small and inconspicuous, appearing in the axil of the leaf. The fruit ranges from 1/2 to 2 inches long, and changes from green to reddish brown as it matures in late summer and early fall. In addition to their culinary uses, Chinese dates have traditionally been used for medicinal purposes, with the fruit being made into pastes, tablets, and syrups that were supposed to be soothing to the mucous membranes.

The earliest reference to jujubes I have found comes from research by George R. Stritikus of Montgomery, Alabama. In Volume 3, 1885, of the American Cotton Planter (a monthly magazine published in Montgomery), an editorial appeared referring to jujube being imported 'a short time back' from Europe. The Mission Valley Nurseries Catalog, Victoria County, Texas, 1888, provides an interesting entry on jujubes . . .

"Jujube -- A fruit somewhat between a plum and a date. Foliage ornamental, hardy, and vigorous here -- suckers badly. We plant it for ornament and for our bees . . . 50 cents each, $4/dozen."
Mr. Lucas Reyes, of TAEX (retired), was able to locate early copies of the 1921 Annual Report of the Beeville Experiment Station in South Texas, which mentions that jujubes were planted there in 1918. They were observed in 1921, 1924, and 1929 to be mostly thrifty and productive.

Research on the nutritional content and culinary uses of jujube fruit, done in the Food Science section of Texas A&M's Horticultural Sciences Department in the 1940s by Dr. Homer Blackhurst, revealed that the vitamin C content was very high. Experiments where the seeds were removed and the fruit cooked with water, sugar, and seasonings resulted in a product much like apple butter, and in taste tests with apple butter, it was selected as superior.

Following is one recipe taken from USDA publication B-1215 (date unknown) entitled "Methods of Utilizing the Chinese Jujube."

Jujube Butter

6 pints jujube pulp
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
5 pints sugar
1/4 pint vinegar
1 lemon

Boil fruit until tender in sufficient water to cover it. Rub cooked fruit through a sieve or colander to remove the skin and seeds. Cook slowly until thick, put in jars, and seal while hot.