The June plum tree, also known as ambarella in the nursery trade, is a fast-growing tropical plant that bears clusters of 12 more fruits that can weigh more than a pound each.
It’s a fussy orchard plant in South Florida, but June plum fruit produced in Florida and Puerto Rico are occasionally found in fruit markets all over the continental United States. June plums are delicious, and the June plum tree is so productive that it merits extra effort in your tropical or subtropical orchard.
June plums are found under a variety of names. The scientific name of the plant is Spondias dulcis.. June plums are also known as obo de la India, Jew-plum, Golden-apple, Otaheite-apple, Wi-tree, yellow- plum, makopa, Polynesian-plum, casamangue, pomme cythère, prune cythère, Goldpflaume, ambarella, Great hog plum, and Prunier de Cythère. All of these names are used in countries where June plums trees are grown.
History of the June Plum
The June plum tree originated in Melanesia, a chain of islands in the tropical Western Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines. On the islands where the tree is native, it can grow up to 65 feet (20 meters) tall. It would be difficult to harvest the fruit, except it conveniently falls to the ground while it is still green and ripens after it is harvested.
The first settlers of Hawaii probably brought June plums with them to plant for fruit. The infamous Captain William Bligh brought June plums to Jamaica in 1782. From there, they spread across the West Indies to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and to tropical Latin America. The fruit has also been grown for several hundred years in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
June Plum Tree and Fruit Characteristics
June plum is a rapidly-growing deciduous tree. It is native to locations that never receive frosts, but it will shed its leaves during a dry season. The plant is native to islands from New Guinea north and east to Tonga and Tahiti.
Habit, Bark, and Leaves
June plum trees have a rounded crown. Their bark is light grayish-brown and smooth. The leaves appear in pinwheel formations that grow 8 to 24 inches (20 to 60 cm) long. Each leaf is composed of 9 to 25 glossy oval leaflets 2-1/2 to 4 inches (6 to 10 cm) log. The leaves of aJune plum tree will turn yellow before they drop at the beginning of the dry season.
In the tropics, June plum trees flower all year-round. In South Florida, the blooming season is limited to March through May. The greatest number of flowers appear at the end of dry season in clusters (panicles) at the ends of branches before new leaves. Some blossoms are male; some blossoms are female; some blossoms are both male and female. Each blossom appears on a short stalk (pedicel) extending from the branch just 1 to 4 mm (0.04 to 0.1 inch).
Fruits grow on long stalks. They are marked by five shallow grooves that extend longitudinally, from the stem end of the fruit to the tip of the fruit. June plum tree fruits grow in bunches of 12 or more.
The skin on the fruit is thin and tough, but edible. The skin is russetted when the fruit is ripe. Hard, unripe, green fruits fall to the ground over a period of several weeks and ripen to an orange or golden-yellow color. The flesh ofJune plum fruits is yellow, crisp, juicy and slightly acidic, slightly sweet. FirmJune plum fruit have a flavor like pineapple when they are firm. As the fruit softens, the flesh of the fruit takes on more of a mango taste. Every fruit contains one to five flat seeds.
June plum trees are not frost-tolerant. They can survive in USDA Hardiness Zone 9 only if there are several winters with no frost. It is safer to plant them in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 or 11.
June plum trees bloom at different times in different locations. This tree flowers from March to May in Florida. Flowering occurs continuously in the humid tropics. In other areas, flowering occurs during the dry season. In subtropical areas, flowering occurs in the spring. Dwarf varieties produce flowers year-round.
In Hawaii, fruit ripens from November to April. Fruit ripens from May to July in Tahiti.
In Florida, a single tree provides a steady supply from fall to midwinter. In the humid tropics, the tree produces fruit continuously. Fruit matures in 6 to 8 months. The tree bears fruit in four years from seed. It is only possible to get a (poor) crop in South Florida, California, or extreme South Texas if trees can be protected from any frost for five years.
June Plum Tree Care
June plum trees are grown from seed or cuttings. They are also propagated by air-layering, grafting, and shield budding. Seeds require one or two months of continuous warmth and moisture, without flooding, to germinate.
Trees need to be spaced 25 to 40 feet (7.5 meters to 12 meters) apart. Fruits are gathered from the ground and sold while they are still green.
Grows well in the warm subtropics and tropics in hot, tropical lowlands and full sun. Prefers monsoon climate. Tolerant of all types of well-drained soils, shade, drought and elevations up to 700 meters (2,300 feet). Trees grown in shade produce little fruit. Not tolerant of frost. Requires sheltered locations. Propagated by seed, large hardwood cuttings, grafting, shield budding, or air-layering. Seeds take 1-2 months to germinate. It takes 4 to 5 years to bear fruit from seed or 2 to 3 years from cuttings. Trees should be spaced 7.5 to 12 meters (25 to 39 feet) apart.
Where do you find June plum trees?
There are noJune plum orchards in the United States. It is grown in home gardens in Florida as far north as Palm Beach, in Hawaii, and in Puerto Rico. Some home gardeners have success growing it under protection in California, Arizona, and Texas.June plum trees are grown in orchards in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela, and Surinam.
There is small-scale commercial production on Pacific islands from the Philippines to Micronesia and south to New Guinea.June plum trees are grown in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. There is some commercial production in Queensland in Australia, Sri Lanka, and India, as well as Liberia, Tanzania, and Gabon.
June plums are eaten when other tropical fruits are out of season.
June plum trees need to be grown in full sunlight.
The safest approach to fertilizing June plums trees is providing them with well-aged compost made from their own leaves. Nitrogen fertilizers are not necessary unless leaves turn yellow during the middle of the growing season; it’s OK to fertilize lightly when leaves turn yellow and drop at the beginning of the dry season. Never fertilize before cold weather.
Common Uses For June Plums
Cultures around the world use June plum leaves and June plum fruit for food.
In West Java, June plum leaves are added as seasoning for banana leaves used to make pepes, the rice and fish dishes wrapped in leaves and steamed over hot coals. In Costa Rica, at the end of the rainy season, June plum leaves are harvested to make a tart, crisp salad.
June plums are most commonly eaten as fruit.
The flesh of June plum fruits is a little sweet, a little sour, and crunchy. It is best to wait until the peel of the fruit is fully golden. In Malaysian and Indonesian cuisine, June plum fruit is mixed with hayko, a black, thick, salty and sweet sauce made with shrimp paste. Also in Indonesia and Malaysia, sliced June plum fruit is mixed with other sliced fruits and vegetables to make a salad.called rijak in Malaysia and rojak in Indonesia.June plum juice is popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In these countries, the fruit is also used to make soups, sauces, marinades, and braises.
June plum fruit is also a base for chutneys.
How could you useJune plum tree leaves and fruits in your home cooking?
Use a few mature leaves, shredded, as a tart addition to a green salad. Make June plum chutney. Try making June plum cookies and June plum puddings. You could even make a June plum sauce for ice cream.
Health Benefits of June Plums
Like many other tropical fruits, June plums have some antibacterial activities. Scientists in the West African nation of Cameroon have confirmed that the fruit has activity against four strains of Salmonella. Scientists in Sri Lanka have confirmed that June plum leaves are rich in antioxidants. The fruit is a good source of calories, as well as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
Where Do You Buy June Plum Trees?
A few nurseries in Florida and Hawaii sell June plums as a specialty fruit. If you live in California, you will have to buy your fruit trees from a nursery in California, but most other states permit importation of the trees across their state lines. Visit Nature Hills Nursery for more information.
Where To Buy June Plums
Dried June Plums may appear occasionally in markets serving Southeast Asian and Caribbean immigrant populations. You may be able to obtain them as samples when they are harvested at the few nurseries that sell the trees.