UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee , FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail: indianco@ufl.edu 

August 4, 2004

Feature Article - for release the week of August 8, 2004

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

Java Plum

Last week an office visitor asked us to identify of a bunch of trees that appeared to be winning the weed war with Brazilian Pepper trees.  She showed me some photos that were taken on her home site near the Lake, and was enjoying the taste of the fruit of this tree.  I was worried that she may have been eating a fruit that may not have been edible - she got my immediate attention.

This clump of Java Plums grows very close to Lake Okeechobee. Photo: Jodie Everett

 

Once cut to a stump, these Jambolans have resprouted into 20 foot tall trees that will break apart in a good windstorm.

A full sized Java Plum clump in a vacant lot here in Okeechobee. Photos (left and above) Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

A few months back, I was asked to name this same plant found growing on a vacant city lot here in town.  And a few days ago, I noted that someone left a stump that has since resprouted into a 20 foot tree.  This same species was growing in the back yard of my old West Palm Beach home.  I knew it was Syzygium cumini as soon as I saw her photos.

The plant is called Java Plum, a member of the Myrtle family that was introduced to the US in 1911 as a windbreak, for its ornamental value  and fast pest-free growth.  It has an edible fruit as well, enjoyed by humans, raccoons, wild pigs and birds.  All of these critters help it to spread to new locations.  While it hasn’t spread as rapidly as other exotic trees in our subtropical paradise, it is worth noting the pros and cons of this tree.  Property owners may want to review this information when deciding if it should remain as a local Florida Yard resident.

This tree is also sometimes called Jambolan, and is native to the Indian sub-continent.  It has spread throughout the world and has made some lasting impressions on the vegetation of Australia, Hawaii and even parts of Africa.  It is listed by the Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council as a Category I Exotic Pest, capable of displacing native plants with no additional help from man.  Based in an assessment in 2003, the University of Florida  does not recommend its use in south Florida because of its invasive habitat, and suggests it be used cautiously in Central Florida.  As we are on the line between "central" and "south" Florida, I would not recommend it for planting in our area.

In Florida, this tree can get 40-50 feet tall and equally as wide, with trunks widening out to 3 feet in diameter. I have seen local examples that meet these size ranges. The medium green leaves are 6-10 inches long and grow across the stems from each other (oppositely arranged).  The mid rib of the leaf is yellow.  Foliage is evergreen, and crushed leaves give a slight turpentine smell.  The bark on the lower part of the tree is rough, cracked, flaking and discolored; further up in the trunk of the tree it is smooth and light-gray.  Java plum trees usually fork into several trunks, and clumps are more common than single trunks.

Flowers of the Java Plum. Photo: Anne Murray, UF/IFAS

Foliage and fruit of the Jambolan. Photo Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

This tree is most often multi-trunked in habit. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

Fragrant flowers are white wispy bottlebrush-like structures that appear from the spring through the summer.  They give rise to clusters of plum-purple juicy fruit that measure about the size and shape as a jumbo olive, but not quite as plump.  Inside the skin of the fruit, the flesh is white.  It usually contains only one seed.  The juice from the skin is capable of staining your hands, sidewalks, car finishes, and so on.  In other words, this is not a good plant to have where its mess will drop in the landscape. 

The fruit is edible, but will pucker your mouth if it is not fully ripe.  It is enjoyed as a fresh fruit by many people living in southern Asian countries, and can be made into preserves or wines.  There are many reputed medicinal values to almost all parts of this tree – and an internet search may provide a number of uses and sources.  However, the University of Florida has no research that can reliably prove it can be safely used for these purposes.  The wood is attractive, but hard to cure for cabinetry-type uses, while it is a useful for posts and other construction material where the Java Plum is grown.

If you need additional information on the Java Plum, take a look at the additional references on http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu or email us at okeechobee@ufl.edu.  Area residents can call us at 863-763-6469 or stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee. You can visit with our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners on Tuesday afternoons from 1 to 5 PM.

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References

Jambul (Syzygium cumini).  Wikipedia,  5 February 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syzygium_cumini 

Langeland, K & Burks, K.  Identification & Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas,  p. 114-115. Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service,1998, 2008. http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/441

Morton, J.  “Jambolan”.  In: Fruits of Warm Climates, p. 375–378.  Winterville: NC: Creative Resource Systems, Inc. 1987.http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/jambolan.html

The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Interim Dean. Last update: 01/13/2012 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert .