Monday, 11 June 2012

Discovering the Kei Apple

Kei Apple. Photo by Steve Andrews

How I discovered the Kei Apple
I first came upon the Kei Apple whilst wandering around the El Botanico gardens in Puerto de la Cruz on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. I didn’t know it by name then but needed to find out what it was. I was accompanied by my friend Gill and both of us were suddenly struck by a wonderful fruity aroma that filled the warm air. 
We discovered that it was coming from a tree very near to where we were in the gardens. Its branches were laden with fruit and some had fallen on to the ground below. These fruit were golden yellow and reminded me of small apples.

Of course I picked one up and smelled the amazing aroma. I decided to take it home with me in order to see if I could identify it online and find out more about this tree and whether the fruit were edible. They certainly smelled like they should be! I made a note of the Latin name which was Dovyalis caffra that luckily was on a label underneath the tree.


More about the Kei Apple

The Kei Apple, which is what the tree we had found was, is actually named after the River Kei in South Africa. This is where the tree grows in the wild and its range also extends up into the neighbouring African region of Tanzania. The Kei Apple is perhaps not commonly known as an edible fruit but the tree has nevertheless been introduced into many subtropical parts including countries bordering the Mediterranean, and the States of Florida and California in the south of the US.
The Kei Apple belongs to the Flacourtiaceae family and the tree is also known as the Umkokola. I think Kei Apple is easier to remember though so that will do for me.

 A small evergreen tree, the Kei Apple has branches covered and protected by spines and it reaches some 6-9 metres in height. It is excellent for use as a hedge when pruned, and this is why it was originally brought to Australia. It is well suited to a hot and dry climate being both drought and salt resistant

The Kei Apple has both male and female trees. They have very small flowers in the axils of the tree’s leaves. According to Wikipedia, some female trees are actually parthenogenetic and can produce fruit without being fertilized with the male tree’s pollen in the usual way. Kei apples can be produced in such great numbers tha they actually weigh down the branches of their parent tree.
The Kei Apple is most often grown from seed, and several of these are produced in each fruit. They can be propagated by taking hardwood cuttings. However, Kei Apple saplings take around four years before they are at a size where they can flower and bear fruit of their own.
The Kei Apple is often cultivated as an ornamental tree for parks and gardens. Its pleasantly aromatic fruit contain vitamin C and although they are edible they are very acidic and are too sour for many people’s palates.
Jams and Jellies
Kei Apples can, however, be used to make delicious jams and jellies, or as an ingredient in chutneys. The apples can be eaten raw but, as already noted, many people find they taste far too sharp. Sugar or honey can, of course, be used to sweeten the fruit.

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

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