Discovering the Kei Apple

I first came upon the Kei Apple when walking around the El Botánico botanical gardens in Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife. These gardens are a favourite spot of mine in this popular holiday resort on the northwest side of the island.

I love plants and this place is a botanist's paradise with a real wealth of tropical and subtropical shrubs, trees, flowers, cacti and succulents. I was with my friend Gill when we both smelled a wonderful fruity aroma that was fresh and inviting. Wwe both needed to find out what it was.

It came from a tree we were right by and on its branches and fallen on the ground were golden yellow fruit like small apples. I picked one up and decided to take it home to find out more having made a note of the Latin name Dovyalis caffra that was on an identification label under the tree. The gardens are very well looked after and fortunately for people interested in plants like myself, there are labels provided to help with identification.

Kei Apple

Dovyalis caffra

Fruit of the Kei Apple tree
Credit: Photo by Steve Andrews

Description of Dovyalis caffra

The Kei Apple is named after the River Kei in South Africa where the tree is found growing and its range extends up into Tanzania. Although it is not a widely known about edible fruit it has been introduced into many subtropical regions including the Mediterranean, Florida and California. The gardens in Puerto de la Cruz were originally used to see if plants brought back from other parts of the world could be successfully acclimatised to the temperatures and weather conditions in the Canary Islands with a view of transferring them over to mainland Spain.  So it was perhaps not surprising to find it in such a varied collection of botanical specimens.

The Kei Apple is in the Flacourtiaceae family and is also known as Umkokola. It grows into a small evergreen tree with spiny branches of some 6-9 metres in height. The Kei Apple makes an excellent hedge when pruned and was brought to Australia for this purpose.

It is drought and salt resistant and often grown as an ornamental tree as well as for its fruit, which contains vitamin C and although edible are very acidic so would not appeal to all palates.

Kei Apples can be used to make jams, jellies and chutneys. They can be eaten fresh but some people find them too sharp and add sugar to sweeten the fruit.

The Kei Apple has male and female trees that bear small flowers in the leaf axils, although, according to Wikipedia, some female trees are parthenogenetic and can produce fruit. These fruit can be produced in such abundance they weigh down the branches of the parent tree.

The Kei Apple tree is usually grown from seed of which several are produced in each fruit. The trees, which can also be propagated from hardwood cuttings, take around four years to reach a size where they can flower and bear their own fruit.

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

El Botanico gardens in Tenerife