Ziziphus jujuba

Full or partial sun

Moderate water


Native to temperate regions of Asia and known botanically as Ziziphus jujuba. Slow to moderate growth to 15–20 ft. tall (possibly 30 ft.) and 10–15 ft. wide. Spiny, gnarled, somewhat pendulous branches. Glossy bright green, 1–2-in.- long leaves with three prominent veins; good yellow fall color. Clusters of small yellowish flowers in late spring or summer. Round to oval fruit with a central pit matures in fall; it can be eaten fresh from the tree or dried.

Harvest fruit for fresh eating when it begins to turn from yellow green to reddish brown; it has a crisp texture and tastes like a sweet apple. If allowed to turn completely brown and become mushy, fruit is better for drying. The dried fruits look and taste like dates—for that reason, the plant is sometimes called Chinese date. Fruit may not ripen fully on tree in cool-summer areas; pick at half-brown stage and ripen indoors.

Fruit of seedling trees is 1/2 to 1 in. long. The two most common cultivated varieties are ‘Lang’, with 1 1/2- to 2-in., elongated fruit, and ‘Li’, bearing 2-in., round fruit with a very small pit. ‘Lang’ needs ‘Li’ as pollenizer; ‘Li’ is more productive with ‘Lang’ planted nearby, though it will produce some fruit if planted alone.

Jujube is deep rooted and takes well to desert conditions. The tree is very cold hardy but not productive in short-summer areas. Tolerates drought. Takes saline and alkaline soils but grows better in good garden soil and thrives in lawns if there is adequate drainage (though suckering from roots can be a problem, particularly in moist soil). Has no serious pests but is subject to Texas root rot in deserts. Prune in winter to shape, encourage weeping habit, or reduce size. Attractive silhouette, foliage, fruit, and toughness make it a good decorative tree, especially for high desert.