Rose Apple: An Arch of Bells

In Florida we have a unique opportunity to create an edible landscape we can enjoy year-round. Fruit trees are an essential part of any edible garden. However, a tree may not always be possible or functional in all yards. The Rose Apple provides a unique ability to have a fruit tree without having a traditional tree that would take up a lot of space, offering a bounty of fruit in the fall and spring as well as handsome foliage throughout the year.

In its native habitat in Malaysia, Rose Apple (Syzygium aqueum) has been cultivated and eaten for centuries. However, the popularity of these fruits is not limited to Malaysia. The fruit has spread across the tropical regions of Asia to many different cultures from Vietnam to Pakistan. My own first experience with the Rose Apple was in Thailand, where this fruit is considered sacred and is prized for its brightly colored fruits, beautiful foliage, and white powder-puff flowers. The fruits of the Rose Apple range from a pale green to a deep crimson and when ripe form into a bell shape, which bends to the touch. Every morning women prepare offerings of these sacred fruits, which are artfully carved and displayed in small delicate containers. Often these containers are made from the leaves of the Rose Apple tree, which are slim and narrow.

Although one would not think so at first glance, the Rose Apple is actually a type of edible berry. Its flavor is similar to that of a watermelon when ripe.  Along the Indian Ocean, however, people have taken to eating the fruit unripened. Cutting the fruit and mixing it in salads, or simply adding salt and serving with dip as a snack or appetizer. In addition to being eaten out of hand, Rose Apples can also be cooked into chutney, preserves, or lightly sautéed into a sauce.

Rose apple trees are easily propagated by air layer, cuttings, or grafting. I would not recommend planting from seed because these trees will often produce inferior fruit and have poor disease resistance.  Even though Rose Apples are well adapted to the climate in South Florida, they do require some humidity and fertilization.  This regiment will ensure healthy growth and fruiting, most trees will fruit twice a year, if properly tended. Mulching is a great way to reduce watering and provide nutrients to the tree. 

Rose Apples are available at local nurseries throughout South Florida. An option for those with limited space is to grow the Rose Apple as a trained tree or trellis. When small, they can easily be trained forming arcs and hedges in the garden. When trellising, the gardener will need to provide a sturdy structure from which the plant can support itself; this is especially true since the tree will also be providing fruit. When the tree is just beginning to grow wrap new growth around the structure this will ensure form and strength. As the tree matures, pruning will be required to ensure the trees maintain their size and shape. Make sure you trim new buds and growth, ensuring the core spiral remains intact.

If you choose to design a Rose Apple arch, you should first create an arch frame. An easy way to do this is by driving two 1.5-foot long iron bars into the ground, making sure ½ foot is exposed above the growing space, with the two bars 2 to 3 meters apart. Then, use a PVC pipe measuring 1 inch diameter x 10-12 ft long to bridge the arch.  Then, twist the branches of the tree around the pipe to start shaping the tree securing them with twine.

If you decide to make a tunnel, you can repeat this arch many times spacing them 4 feet apart.

A healthy tree can produce abundant fruits and has two fruiting seasons annually, May-September and November to March.

Some things you need to think about when you’re planning an edible landscape by including fruit trees:

  • Consider the space you have available; for most landscaping areas dwarf or semi-dwarf trees will work better with the other trees and shrubs you’ll be incorporating.
  • Don’t forget to include your favorite varieties.
  • Many fruit trees don’t start producing fruit for a couple of years, so you may have to have a little patience.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with fruit trees in your landscaping. You can tuck a rose apple tree in here for plenty of fruit to satisfy your family’s summer craving.

This article was written by Noris Ledesma and originally published in the Miami Herald. Noris Ledesma is Curator of Tropical Fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Minor changes from the print version of this article were introduced to improve readability in a digital format.