Ziziphus jujuba, commonly called jujube, red date, Chinese date, Korean date, or Indian date is a species of Ziziphus in the buckthorn family.
Plate from the book Flora de Filipinas
It is a small deciduous tree or shrub reaching a height of 5–12 metres (16–39 ft), usually with thorny branches. The leaves are shiny-green, ovate-acute, 2–7 centimetres (0.79–2.76 in) long and 1–3 centimetres (0.39–1.18 in) wide, with three conspicuous veins at the base, and a finely toothed margin. The flowers are small, 5 mm (0.20 in) wide, with five inconspicuous yellowish-green petals. The fruit is an edible oval drupe 1.5–3 centimetres (0.59–1.18 in) deep; when immature it is smooth-green, with the consistency and taste of an apple, maturing brown to purplish-black, and eventually wrinkled, looking like a small date. There is a single hard kernel, similar to an olive pit, containing two seeds.
Its precise natural distribution is uncertain due to extensive cultivation, but is thought to be in southern Asia, between Lebanon, northern India, and southern and central China, and possibly also southeastern Europe though more likely introduced there.
This plant has been introduced in Madagascar and grows as an invasive species in the western part of the island. This plant is known as the “hinap” or “finab” in the eastern part of Bulgaria where it grows wild but is also a garden shrub, kept for its fruit. The fruit is picked in the autumn. The trees grow wild in the eastern Caribbean, and are reported to exist in Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Trinidad as well. In Antigua and Barbuda, the fruit is called “dumps” or “dums”; and in The Bahamas, “juju”. It is also known as “pomme surette” on the French islands of the Caribbean. This fruit, more precisely known as “Indian jujube” elsewhere, is different from the “jujube” fruit that is cultivated in various parts of southern California. Altun Ha an ancient Mayan city in Belize, located in the Belize District about 50 kilometres (31 mi) north of Belize City and the surrounding woods also boasts some jujube tree and shrub varieties where it is referred to as plums for lack of a better word among locals.
The species has a curious nomenclatural history, due to a combination of botanical naming regulations, and variations in spelling. It was first described scientifically by Carl Linnaeus as Rhamnus zizyphus, in Species Plantarum in 1753. Later, in 1768, Philip Miller concluded it was sufficiently distinct from Rhamnus to merit separation into a new genus, which he named Ziziphus jujube, using Linnaeus’ species name for the genus but with a probably accidental single letter spelling difference, “i” for “y”. For the species name he used a different name, as tautonyms (repetition of exactly the same name in the genus and species) are not permitted in botanical naming. However, because of Miller’s slightly different spelling, the combination the earlier species name (from Linnaeus) with the new genus, Ziziphus zizyphus, is not a tautonym, and was therefore permitted as a botanical name. This combination was made by Hermann Karsten in 1882. In 2006, a proposal was made to suppress the name Ziziphus zizyphus in favor of Ziziphus jujuba, and this proposal was accepted in 2011. Ziziphus jujuba is thus the correct scientific name for this species.