The jujube is one of those plants now relegated to the list of ancient fruits, less widespread in cultivation, unfortunately less appreciated as a fruit plant; in reality it is a plant cultivated by man for millennia, in Africa, Asia and even in Europe, where it was imported in ancient times by the Romans. Its botanical name is Zizyphus jujuba.
The jujube is a beautiful fruit plant, very suitable also to be cultivated as an ornamental plant. It is a small tree, which usually does not exceed 3-4 meters in height; the bark is wrinkled and the branches have a tortuous and twisted development, often falling, the branches have numerous large, very sharp spines; the foliage is deciduous, consisting of pinnate leaves, composed of small oval leaflets, bright green, glossy and slightly leathery.
In late spring or early summer it produces a profusion of small white flowers, followed by fruits, similar to edible olives.
Jujubes ripen in late summer, or during the first weeks of autumn; they are light green in color and are generally edible even when they are unripe; at first slightly sweet, they become more and more sweet as the skin darkens; with the passing of the weeks the jujube pulp wrinkles, but remains edible and very sweet.
Zizyphus jujuba plants are easy to grow; they do not fear the cold and can withstand very intense and long-lasting frosts, so they can easily find a place in the garden, in full ground; they are very slow growing plants, also suitable for small gardens. When planting them, mix the mature manure or slow release granular fertilizer with the soil, and repeat this operation at the foot of the plant every year, in spring.
IL GIUGGIOLO IN BRIEF
Family, genus, species: Rhamnaceae, Ziziphus jujuba
Plant type: Fruit tree or shrub
Height: From 1 to 10 meters
Years for fruiting: At least 2
Exposure: Full sun
Minimum temperature: -15 ° c
Ideal climate: Mediterranean
Ground: Poor, sandy or stony
soil pH: From alkaline to neutral
Soil moisture: Dry, well-drained
irrigation: Only in summer
Propagation: Sowing, cutting, grafting
The plants of Zizyphus jujuba can withstand even prolonged periods of drought, but if we want to obtain a good harvest, with swollen fruits, it is good to water the plant regularly, from April to September. These plants develop without problems even in areas with cold climate, but generally they show a better fruiting, and of better quality, in the areas that enjoy hot summers; therefore in areas with fresh summers the jujube is cultivated more than anything else as an ornamental plant.
Use of fruits
Jujubes are eaten raw, when they are green or even when they are brown; they are not succulent or fragrant fruits, but their sweet and particular taste makes them interesting. In the nursery we can also find varieties with very large fruit, called jujube-apple, with compact flesh, which becomes floury when the fruit is completely ripe.
Jujubes have been used for centuries in herbal medicine and in traditional European and Asian medicine; the fruit, the seed and also the decoction of the fruits are used as a sedative and in the treatment of respiratory diseases.
The ancient Romans prepared a wine obtained from the fermentation of jujube fruits; even today in some Italian regions juices are prepared based on jujubes, one of them we remember the "jujube broth", produced in the native city of Petrarca, Arquа, but also in other regions of the north.
Exposure and climate
Jujube is the ideal plant to grow in the Mediterranean garden since, to give its best, it prefers warm climates and, once it has been freed, it does not fear drought at all.
It is however a very adaptable essence: it can be grown without fear in our entire peninsula. The cold is not a problem: a well-exposed jujube doesn't even fear temperatures around -15 ° C.
Even under this aspect it proves really tolerant: it prefers light and well-drained, even stony, possibly slightly calcareous and alkaline soils. However, it also adapts to different substrates, for example those that are wet or salty due to the proximity of the sea.
The jujube lives well even without irrigation: in those conditions the growth will be much slower and the fructification could be completely compromised. To get the best it is good to never let the water miss for at least the first two years after planting: we irrigate once every 15 days, in the absence of rain. Later we can completely neglect unless we are interested in an abundant production. In that case we water at least once a month, especially during the summer.
Setting up a thick mulch can help us reduce interventions as well as protecting the roots from winter cold.
Plants not intended for intensive production are satisfied with a little nitrogen fertilizer at the end of winter. Otherwise we will have to distribute soil improver in autumn and a sufficient dose of fertilizer specific for fruit trees at the end of winter.
Jujubes can be left to grow without specific interventions. To encourage the harvesting of the fruits, the low bush pruning is widespread. In Europe we usually intervene every three years, lowering the subject and opening the hair. It is possible, however, to intervene every year by creating, for example, small informal hedges. Usually proceed by shortening the quotes and then selecting 4 jets produced the previous year and eliminating the others.
In Europe and in the Mediterranean area, only two or three different species of jujube are widespread, which essentially differ in the shape of the fruit, peripheral or round. In China, however, the plant has always been very popular and the fruits find countless uses in the kitchen. The dried ones (called "Chinese dates") are in great demand: the medium-sized varieties are ideal, with a thin skin and a sweet taste but with harsh accents. Larger jujubes are instead intended for consumption as fresh or for candying.
Some Italian nurserymen are trying to introduce new varieties, potentially interesting for the market. Their peculiar characteristics are resistance to adversity, adaptability to different climates and the quality of the fruits.
Some come directly from China, others were first imported into the USA and then reached our continent.
Traditional jujube varieties
The traditional species are:
Ziziphus lotus very widespread throughout the Mediterranean area due to its great resistance to drought. It is used in nurseries as a rootstock for more delicate varieties.
It grows up to 3 meters in height; its branches, very thorny, grow irregularly. The root system over time becomes very deep and guarantees the supply of water. The fruits, however, are small and not very pleasant.
Ziziphus mauritiana native of Africa and widespread along the shores of the Mediterranean, but also in the Middle East (it is very popular in India). It grows up to 5 meters in height if treated as a shrub, but when left free it reaches even 20 meters. The branches have the typical zigzag shape and are extremely thorny. It has a very deep root system and is therefore very resistant to drought.
It produces round fruits of about 1.2 cm, yellow and sweet, with a large stone.
Jujube - Zizyphus jujuba: Other cultivars
Ziziphus jujuba 'Buluoshuzao' beautiful medium-sized plant, absolutely without thorns. The fruits, large in size and of excellent taste, are produced at the beginning of autumn, but they ripen at scale.
Ziziphus jujuba 'So' it has rounded fruits with a late ripening. Suitable for creating hedges for its compact and rounded growth habit. The branches are without thorns and the foliage is almost everywhere fallen.
Ziziphus jujuba 'Zanhuangdazao' medium-sized plant, but very productive. The fruits are oval and quite late, sweet with a sour aftertaste. Not suitable for humid or rainy climates.
Ziziphus jujuba 'Li' interesting cultivar for its rapid growth and large fruit, with a rounded shape and an intense taste. The core is very small.
Ziziphus jujuba 'Autumn Beauty' to be taken into consideration both as an interest bearing and as an ornamental element. Jujubes are large and oval, produced early. The leaves take on a beautiful color in autumn