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Clusia rosea 'Variegata': 'Variegata' Pitch Apple

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, and Deborah R. Hilbert 

Introduction

This wide-spreading, densely-foliated, rounded, 25- to 30-foot-tall, evergreen tree has a short trunk and broad, thickened, leathery leaves, reminiscent of Southern magnolia leaves. The leaves are striking with yellow and green marbled variegations. 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 'Variegata': 'Variegata' Pitch-Apple
Figure 1.  Middle-aged Clusia rosea 'Variegata': 'Variegata' pitch-apple.

 

General Information

Scientific name: Clusia rosea

Pronunciation: KLOO-see-uh ROE-zee-uh

Common name(s): 'Variegata' pitch apple, 'Variegata' Florida clusia

Family: Clusiaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 10A through 11 (Figure 2)

Origin: native to North America

Invasive potential: native cultivar

Uses: trained as a standard; reclamation; urban tolerant; 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; shade; highway median; hedge; container or planter

Figure 2. Range
Figure 2.  Range.

 

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 (Figure 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: variegated

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. Foliage
Figure 3.  Foliage.

 

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 squirrels/mammals; not showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

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: sand; loam; clay; acidic; alkaline; 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 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.

Propagation is by cuttings.

Pests

Scale.

Diseases

No diseases are of major concern.

Publication #ENH332

Release Date:February 26th, 2024

Related Collections

Part of Southern Trees Fact Sheets

Related Topics

  • Critical Issue: Agricultural and Food Systems
Organism ID

About this Publication

This document is ENH332, one of a series of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2023. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Ryan W. Klein, assistant professor, arboriculture; and Deborah R. Hilbert, Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Department of Environmental Horticulture; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Contacts

  • Michael Andreu
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