Ziziphus mauritiana, also known as Chinese dateberChinee/Chinkee applejujubeIndian plum, พุทรา (Thailand), Regi panduIndian jujubedunks (in Barbados) and masau, is a tropical fruit tree species belonging to the family Rhamnaceae.

Ziziphus mauritiana is a spiny, evergreen shrub or small tree up to 15 m high, with trunk 40 cm or more in diameter; spreading crown; stipular spines and many drooping branches. The fruit is of variable shape and size. It can be oval, obovate, oblong or round, and that can be 1-2.5 in (2.5-6.25 cm) long, depending on the variety. The flesh is white and crisp. When slightly underipe, this fruit is a bit juicy and has a pleasant aroma. The fruit’s skin is smooth, glossy, thin but tight.

The species is believed to have originated in Indo-Malaysian region of South-East Asia. It is now widely naturalised throughout the Old World tropics from Southern Africa through the Middle East to the Indian Subcontinent and ChinaIndomalaya, and into Australasia and the Pacific Islands. It can form dense stands and become invasive in some areas, including Fiji and Australia and has become a serious environmental weed in Northern Australia. It is a fast-growing tree with a medium lifespan, that can quickly reach up to 10–40 ft (3 to 12 m) tall.

In Queensland, Australia, it is known as the Chinee/Chinkee apple as it was believed to be introduced by Chinese miners to areas such as Charters TowersRavenswood and Hughenden.

Ziziphus mauritiana is a medium-sized tree that grows vigorously and has a rapidly developing taproot, a necessary adaptation to drought conditions. The species varies widely in height, from a bushy shrub 1.5 to 2 m tall, to a tree 10 to 12 m tall with a trunk diameter of about 30 cm. Z. mauritiana may be erect or wide-spreading, with gracefully drooping thorny branches, zigzag branchlets, thornless or set with short, sharp straight or hooked spines.

The leaves are alternate, ovate or oblong elliptic with rounded apex, with 3 depressed longitudinal veins at the base. The leaves are about 2.5 to 3.2 cm long and 1.8 to 3.8 cm wide having fine tooth at margin. It is dark-green and glossy on the upper side and pubescent and pale-green to grey-green on the lower side. Depending on the climate, the foliage of the Z. mauritiana may be evergreen or deciduous.

The flowers are tiny, yellow, 5-petalled and are usually in twos and threes in the leaf axils. Flowers are white or greenish white and the fruits are orange to brown, 2–3 cm long, with edible white pulp surrounding a 2-locular pyrene.

This quick growing tree starts producing fruits within three years. The fruit is a soft, juicy, drupe that is 2.5 cm diameter though with sophisticated cultivation the fruit size may reach up to 6.25 cm long and 4.5 cm wide. The form may be oval, obovate, round or oblong; the skin smooth or rough, glossy, thin but tough. The fruit ripen at different times even on a single tree. Fruits are first green, turning yellow as they ripen. The fully mature fruit is entirely red, soft, juicy with wrinkled skin and has a pleasant aroma. The ripe fruit is sweet and sour in taste. Both flesh texture and taste are reminiscent of apples. When under ripe the flesh is white and crispy, acid to subacid to sweet in taste. Fully ripe fruits are less crisp and somewhat mealy; overripe fruits are wrinkled, the flesh buff-coloured, soft, spongy and musky. At first the aroma is apple like and pleasant but it becomes peculiarly musky when overripe. There is a single, hard, oval or oblate, rough central stone which contains 2 elliptic, brown seeds, 1/4 in (6mm) long.

Ziziphus mauritiana is hardy tree that copes with extreme temperatures and thrives under rather dry conditions with an annual rainfall of 6 to 88.5 in (15–225 cm). In Fiji, sometimes naturalised Ber trees grow along roadsides and in agricultural land, usually near sea level but occasionally up to an elevation of about 600 m. It also grows well on laterite, medium black soils with good drainage, or sandy, gravelly, alluvial soil of dry river-beds where it is vigorously spontaneous. In Australia, this species grows on a wide variety of soil types, including cracking clays, solodic soils and deep alluvials, in the tropics and sub-tropics where the average annual rainfall is in the range 470-1200mm. In the drier parts of this range, it grows best in riparian zones. Commercial cultivation usually extends up to 1000 m. Beyond this elevation trees do not perform well, and cultivation becomes less economical.

The tree has a high tolerance to both water-logging and drought and can grow where annual rainfall ranges from 125 to 2,225 mm, but is more widespread in areas with an annual rainfall of 300 to 500 mm. In China and India, wild trees are found up to an elevation of 5,400 ft (1,650 m). In India, the minimum shade temperature for survival is 7–13° and the maximum temperature is 50 °C. Studies report that this species flourishes in alkaline soils with a pH as high as 9.2. However, deep sandy loam to loamy soils with neutral or slightly alkaline pH are considered optimum for growth. In India, the tree grows best on sandy loam, neutral or slightly alkaline.

In India, there are 90 or more cultivars depending on the habit of the tree, leaf shape, fruit form, size, color, flavor, keeping quality, and fruiting season. Among the important cultivars, eleven are described in the encyclopaedic Wealth of India: ‘Banarasi (or Banarsi) Pewandi’, ‘Dandan’, ‘Kaithli’ (‘Patham’), ‘Muria Mahrara’, ‘Narikelee’, ‘Nazuk’, ‘Sanauri 1’, ‘Sanauri 5’, ‘Thornless’ and ‘Umran’ (‘Umri’). The skin of most is smooth and greenish-yellow to yellow.

Reproductive biology[edit]

Some cultivars attain anthesis early in the morning, others do so later in the day. The flowers are protandrous. Hence, fruit set depends on cross-pollination by insects attracted by the fragrance and nectar. Pollen of the Indian jujube is thick and heavy. It is not airborne but is transferred from flower to flower by honeybees. The flowers are pollinated by ants and other insects, and in the wild state the trees do not set fruits by self-pollination. Ber propagates by seeds, seedlings, direct sowing, root suckers as well as by cuttings. Ber seeds are spread by birds, native animals, stock, feral pigs and humans who eat the fruit and expel the seeds. Seeds may remain viable for 2½ years but the rate of germination declines with age. Cross-incompatibility occurs, and cultivars have to be matched for good fruit set; some cultivars produce good crops parthenocarpically.

Ziziphus mauritiana is one of the two Ziziphus species that have considerable horticulture importance, the other being Chinese jujube (Z. zizyphus). Indian jujube is more tropical whereas Chinese jujube is a more cold hardy species.

Propagation is most commonly from seed, where pretreatment is beneficial. Storage of the seed for 4 months to let it after-ripen improves germination. The hard stone restricts germination and cracking the shell or extraction of seeds hastens germination. Without pretreatment the seeds normally germinate within six weeks whereas extracted seeds only need one week to germinate

Seedlings to be used as rootstock can be raised from seed. Several studies indicate that germination can be improved by soaking seeds in sulfuric acid. Germination time can also be shortened to 7 days by carefully cracking the endocarp. Ber seedlings do not tolerate transplanting, therefore the best alternatives are to sow the seeds directly in the field or to use polythene tubes placed in the nursery bed. Seedlings are ready for budding in 3 to 4 months. In addition, seedlings from the wild cultivars can be converted into improved cultivars by top-working and grafting. Nurseries are used for large scale seedling multiplication and graft production. The seedlings should also be given full light. The seedlings may need as long as 15 months in the nursery before planting in the field.

Scientists in India have standardised propagation techniques for Ber establishment. Budding is the easiest method of vegetative propagation used for improved cultivars. Different types of budding techniques have been utilised with ring-budding and shield-budding being the most successful. Wild varieties of ber are usually used as the root-stock. The most common being Z. rotundifolia in India and Z. spina-christi in Africa.

Plants are capable of seed production once they reach a height of about 1 metre. Wild-growing plants in northern Australia may take 8 years to reach this size. In Australia, plants growing under natural conditions are capable of producing seeds once they reach a height of about 1m. Plants between 1 and 2m high produce, on average, less than five fruits per season. Large plants (>5m high) can produce 5000 or more fruits in a single season.

In India, some types ripen as early as October, others from mid-February to mid-March, others in March, or mid-March, to the end of April. In the Assiut Governorate, there are 2 crops a year, the main in early spring, the second in the fall. In India the trees flower in July to October and fruits are formed soon after. In February–March the fruits are mature and in some places a second crop is produced in the fall. Pickings are done by hand from ladders and about 110 lbs (50 kg)is harvested per day. The fruits remaining on the tree are shaken down. Only fully mature fruits are picked directly from the tree. They are transported in open bags to avoid fermentation.

Seedling trees bear 5,000 to 10,000 small fruits per year in India. Superior grafted trees may yield as many as 30,000 fruits. The best cultivar in India, with fruits normally averaging 30 to the lb (66 to the kg), yields 175 lbs (77 kg) annually. Special cultural treatment increases both fruit size and yield.