Rhamnaceae (buckthorn family) Ziziphus

Ziziphus jujuba jujube

Africa, Asia, Australia
Ziziphus jujuba behind the Knoll. Sairus Patel, 2 Jun 2023
Ziziphus jujuba leaf. John Rawlings, ca. 2005

The Greeks and Romans knew this small deciduous tree as the zizyphon or zizyphum, and the Arabs as zizouf; the English is just a corruption of the same word. It was always valued in the Mediterranean for its “dates,” which can be stored and have a pleasing acid flavor. Meanwhile, unknown to the classical world, the very same plant was receiving attention in China, where it was developed into a principal source of edible fruit. The Chinese varieties are those now available in commerce.

There are several battered and untended jujubes south of The Knoll off Lomita Court near the west modular building. The leaves are an inch or so long, alternate, with three prominent veins, and with small flowers in threes in the leaf axils. It is not known what variety these plants are, but they fruit freely, producing numerous seedlings (such as at Stanford Avenue opposite Peter Coutts Road) that are available for transplanting to more accessible locations. A nice specimen just inside the northeast gate of Frost Amphitheater was lost to construction by 2017.

Homer’s lotus eaters are thought by some scholars to have been consuming jujubes, possibly fermented. There is apparently no connection with Sisyphos, son of Odysseus (some said), who did time in Hades pushing a stone up a hill, from whose top it invariably rolled back to the bottom.

Name derivation: Ziziphus – Ziz'iphus: one source says from the Persian name zizfum or zizafun, the reason for its application unknown, and another source says from zizouf, the Arabian name for Zizyphus lotus, a shrubby deciduous tree of the Mediterranean. Plinius apparently used the Latin name Zizyphus for the jujube-tree. From California Plant Names.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. Frost location indicated as removed Jan 2018 (SP).