The Japanese Raisin Tree, Hovenia dulcis, belongs to the Rhamnaceae family and is therefore a cousin of the jujube, Zizyphus jujuba. This plant is unusual in that the fruit or seed capsule is discarded and the stem is eaten. The stems become swollen, fleshy, and branched with small pea-sized seed capsules at the ends. This is a mechanism for propagation. The fleshy stems are easily detached and no doubt the birds scatter the seed as they feed.
The leaves are three-veined, cordate-ovate or ovate, usually serrated, and 4 to 6 inches long. The leaves are often slightly quilted, shiny and translucent. The young branches are smooth and thin-barked, and spotted with small glands. Sun shining through the tree makes an unusually handsome display of the zig-zag branches. The tree is said to reach 30 feet and to make a rounded specimen. No trees of this size are known in the United States. Specimens are located in Houston, Texas, and in Santa Maria and Santa Clara in California. There is evidence that this tree is hardy along the East Coast to about Washington, D.C., and is said to have become naturalized in the Carolinas. Most likely it will grow wherever the jujube is at home. Like the jujube, the Raisin Tree sheds small branches as well as leaves in the late fall of the year.
DATE: March 1986
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