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Publication #ENH331

Clusia rosea: Pitch Apple1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2

Introduction

This wide-spreading, densely-foliated, rounded, 25- to 30-foot-tall, evergreen tree has a short trunk and broad, thickened, dark green, leathery leaves, reminiscent of Southern magnolia leaves. It is, in fact, greatly admired in Cuba and the Virgin Islands as an ornamental. Leaves can be written on with a fingernail. In summer, the showy, pink and white, 2- to 3-inch flowers appear at night and sometimes remain open all morning on overcast days. They appear near the branch tips and are followed by a fleshy, light green, poisonous fruit, 3-inches in diameter. These persistent fruits turn black when ripe and split open, revealing bright red seeds surrounded by a black, resinous material. The seeds are very attractive to birds and other wildlife and they germinate readily in the landscape and surrounding areas. The black material surrounding these seeds was once used to caulk the seams of boats, hence its common name, 'Pitch-Apple'.

Figure 1. 

Middle-aged Clusia rosea: Pitch-Apple


Credit:

Ed Gilman


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Clusia rosea
Pronunciation: KLOO-see-uh ROE-zee-uh
Common name(s): Pitch apple, Florida clusia
Family: Clusiaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Invasive potential: weedy native
Uses: trained as a standard; reclamation; street without sidewalk; screen; specimen; espalier; deck or patio; parking lot island < 100 sq ft; parking lot island 100–200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; urban tolerant; shade; highway median; hedge; container or planter
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree

Figure 2. 

Range


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Description

Height: 25 to 30 feet
Spread: 15 to 25 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: round, spreading
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: coarse

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: obovate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: broadleaf evergreen, evergreen
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches, 8 to 12 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Foliage


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Flower

Flower color: pink, white/cream/gray
Flower characteristics: showy

Fruit

Fruit shape: round
Fruit length: 1 to 3 inches, 3 to 6 inches
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: green, black
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; not showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Figure 4. 

Fruit


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown

Culture

Light requirement: full sun, partial sun, or partial shade, shade tolerant
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: high

Other

Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: yes
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Use and Management

Growing well in full sun to dappled shade, pitch apple tolerates many different soil types but grows most rapidly on moist soils. It is quite tolerant of light open sands and salt spray, making it ideal for seaside locations. Pitch apple is often used as a screen due to its low spreading habit and is ideal for espalier to cool building walls in the summer. Some maintenance is required to trim prop roots and aerial roots as they form from the trunk base and lower branches, or the tree could take over an area. Otherwise, it is a low-maintenance tree. With lower branches removed, it can make an attractive, small to moderately-sized street tree, although some people object to the falling fruits and thick slowly decomposing leaves. A patio can be kept cooler with a pitch apple which creates a dense shade. Plants should be watered well until established and then trees develop rapidly.

Purchase trees which have been trained in the nursery to one central leader for street tree use. Those grown for specimen use with several upright trunks are not suited for streets, as vehicle clearance will be difficult to maintain and trees will be less durable.

The cultivar with marbled leaves, Clusia rosea 'Variegata', has unusual and very striking, yellow and green variegated foliage.

Propagation is by seeds or cuttings.

Pests

Scale.

Diseases

No diseases are of major concern.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH331, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Reviewed May 2014. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.