The Prolific Wax Jambu: A Sweet, Abundant Fruit Thrives in Southwest FloridaSep 07, 2021 05:00PM ● By ERIK ENTWISTLE
Whether it’s called wax jambu, lembu, makopa, java apple, champoo, jambu air, wax apple, bell fruit, jaamrool, rose apple or by any other name, the fruit would taste as sweet—and the tree that produces it (Syzygium samarangense) could make for a delightful addition to your landscape. Native to the Malay peninsula and nearby Southeast Asian islands and cultivated in that region extensively, the wax jambu finds itself equally at home on the mainland and the islands of Southwest Florida. While you will likely never encounter the wax jambu in the produce aisle at your local grocer, you can grow this exotic and enticing fruit yourself.
I have two specimens of wax jambu growing on Sanibel that were obtained from the FruitScapes Nursery located on Pine Island. First I planted a white, unnamed cultivar and was surprised by how quickly the tree became established, with little care other than irrigation and occasional organic fertilization. Furthermore, the evergreen tree needed little pruning and looked handsome year round. A few years after this initial planting, I added a red variety. Both are thriving; the white variety already produces prolifically, while the red is still maturing.
Wax jambu trees are beautiful to behold, with textured, reddish bark and a short, branching trunk. The extremely showy flowers are as stunning as they are numerous, and they are attractive to honeybees and other pollinators. The flowering period usually starts in May. Fruits quickly follow, forming numerous hanging clusters. The sheer quantity of fruit is striking; indeed, it would be difficult to find another fruiting tree that grows in the region as prolific as the wax jambu. When ripe, fruits will pull easily from the tree. Many will fall off before you have the chance to harvest them, in which case they may simply be retrieved from the ground.
Some liken the taste of the wax jambu to that of rose water. It has a juicy, crisp texture similar to Asian pear but lighter and more delicate. The edible skin looks polished and shiny, hence the use of the term wax in some of the fruit’s popular names. The center of the fruit, which may contain a seed, is gauzy, comparatively dry and tasteless. You can eat the fruit as you would an apple (no need to peel) and discard the soft center core. Alternatively, it can be sliced lengthwise and used in salads.
In addition to the gorgeous flowers and prodigious amount of fruit, the tree features another delightful aspect: the delicate perfume of the fruit is also infused into the leaves. When crushed, they give off an aroma that resembles the taste of the fruit itself, so you can enjoy the fragrance even when the tree is resting from production.
Like guava and papaya, wax jambu can be susceptible to fruit flies. With so many fruits on the tree, some loss of crop is not really an issue, but if an infestation becomes a problem and you want to make certain that they ripen unblemished, you can enclose the developing fruit clusters in protective mesh bags, as is done commercially in the tree’s native growing region.
If you’re feeling adventurous and have the space, give wax jambu a try. You will undoubtedly enjoy its many winning attributes.
Pianist, instructor and musicologist Erik Entwistle lives and teaches on Sanibel. He writes the Stay Tuned column for TOTI Media. A favorite hobby is growing vegetables and fruit using sustainable gardening methods.