The rose apple is a beautiful medium-sized evergreen tree native to the East Indies and is grown for its uniquely-flavored fruit. Trees have a weeping habit of growth, which is very attractive, and the glossy, leathery 6-8 inch leaves are a beautiful wine-red when they emerge and before they gradually mature.
During the early spring, large clusters of 2-inch yellowish or white flowers are produced, giving the tree a very showy appearance. The flowers are followed shortly by oval or globular-shaped fruits up to 2 inches or more that have a thin layer of crisp edible rose-flavored flesh and a large hollow seed cavity containing one or more ½-inch (or larger) seeds. The fruit is very distinctly flavored like a rose, and some people find that objectionable though others enjoy it. It is eaten fresh or it can be used to make excellent rose-flavored jellies and jams. It can also be preserved in syrup.
The rose apple is easily propagated by seed. It grows about 2 to 3 feet a year. Normally it takes 4 to 5 years to reach bearing age, but it can be air-layered or grafted for quicker fruiting.
Generally, a rose apple should be planted where it is protected from the cold, since even larger trees are badly damaged by temperatures below 28°F. Rose apples seldom have any trouble with the soil and can be grown in a wide variety of soil types. Also, they are tolerant of flooding and have withstood two weeks of flooding without damage.
The rose apple should be fertilized with a fruit-tree-type fertilizer once every 3 to 4 months. For the first year or two, young seedling trees should be fertilized every other month for faster growth. During the fruiting season many of the fruits are attacked and damaged by the Caribbean fruit fly, but little can be done at this time to control this pest. Also, occasionally there may be thrip damage during the spring dry period and although leaves might fall prematurely, the tree quickly replaces these. There is no approved pesticide to control thrips on the rose apple, though some people have reported the use of malathion with good success.
The rose apple makes a nice tree for a small yard because it can be kept pruned to a large shrub size* and still produce enough fruit to make it worthwhile. In recent years there has been an increased interest in tropical fruits of a smaller size that will fit in the present day average landscape. The rose apple can also be grown as a container plant and produce some fruit. Because of its unique flavor, the rose apple always gets a lot of attention. If you have sufficient space in your landscape, you might want to try one.
*Editor's note: pruning would seem to be essential. A neighbor's rose apple is a big tree and would easily take up a small yard. The spreading canopy allows enough light for grass to grow underneath.
DATE: September 1990
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