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The Arborist: rose apple trees for scent and color, but probably not the fruit

April 14, 2010 |  8:44 am

RoseApple Landscape architect and arborist Pieter Severynen has long been writing about trees for L.A. Times blogs. We're happy to report his recommendations are moving into the backyard of L.A. at Home. Severynen will identify examples you might see around town, explain their merits and recommend ways they might be used in your garden. This week: the rose apple.

You could grow a rose apple tree just for the eye-catching new leaves: pink, red, orange, yellow and brown. Or you might enjoy the delicate rose scent or the beautiful colors of the tree’s fruit. But you’d have to be a real fan of rose apple trees to claim them solely for the taste, which is good but not great. The hollow 2-inch fruits can be eaten fresh from the tree, but they're more often stewed with sugar, stuffed with a rice and meat mixture, covered with tomato sauce and baked, or made into jam or jelly.

Because the rose apple's fruit is just not in the same league as popular apple, plum or orange varieties, little serious breeding has been done and few or no selections are available here. Local rare fruit growers could show you varieties they grow, but that's about it -- which is a shame, because the rose apple is a beauty.

The tree grows to about 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide, and it's evergreen with slender, spreading branches and pale brown bark. The leaves are elliptical, leathery and glossy, 4 to 9 inches long by 2 inches wide. They form a dense, luxurious crown. Showy flowers -- white to cream, 2 to 4 inches wide and sweetly scented -- are arranged in small clusters with conspicuous masses of stamens, reminiscent of eucalyptus flowers.

Depending on the variety, the fruit may be greenish, yellow, orange or red. It bruises easily and does not last long. 

The rose apple is neither rose nor apple, but rather a member of the myrtle family, Myrtaceae. The tree is native to the tropical East Indies and the Malay Peninsula. It was introduced in Florida before 1877 and came to Hawaii in 1825. In California it grows as far north as San Francisco.

The tree likes a warm, sunny location, but it is not resistant to drought. It prefers good soil and is bothered by few diseases. In general, it's easy to grow.

-- Pieter Severynen

Severynen is director of planning and design for the L.A. nonprofit North East Trees.

Photo credit: Pieter Severynen

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