FRUITS CONSTITUTE a commercially important and nutritionally indispensable food commodity. Being part of a balanced diet, fruits play a vital role in human nutrition by supplying the necessary growth-regulating factors essential for maintaining normal health. Currently, the spring season is running at peak and everybody is liable to spot roadside vendors selling a green and yellow berry-like fruit, popular among both young and old that fruit is called as Ber.
Ber (Ziziphus mauritiana Lamk) is widely distributed in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Also known as Indian jujube, it belongs to the family Rhamnaceae, comprising 45 genera and 550 species. The plant is a native to southern Asia and eastern Africa, but has spread to Queensland, Australia. Indian jujube is a woody plant, densely branched with zigzag branches. The tree is 7-12 meters in height and the trunk, 30 cm in diameter. Branches are slender and downy, bearing paired, brown spines, one straight and the other slightly hooked. It has a wide spreading crown and a short bole. It is a fast growing tree, with an average bearing life of 25 years. Branches typically have a leaf and a thorn at each angle. The fruits are yellow, green, reddish or purple/dark brown, but have a yellow to pale-orange colour when ripe. The fruits are variable in shape, colour and size. Round, oval or oblong in shape, the fruits may be yellow, green, reddish or purple/dark brown in colour. Wild fruits are 1.5-2.5 cm in length and 1-2 cm in diameter; however improved cultivars can be up to 5 cm in length. The ripe fruit (drupe) is filled with a juicy, hard or soft, sweet-tasting pulp. Seeds are enclosed within a woody endocarp. Leaves are ovoid, glossy green above and nearly white underneath. The major veins in the leaves are nearly parallel. Over time, the leaves typically become infested with a fungus, causing the leaves to have a yellow-mottled appearance above and to turn black below. Flowers are small and inconspicuous, greenish-white, and emit an unpleasant odour. The flowers are pollinated by honey bees (Apis spp.) and house flies (Musca domestica).
The Ber tree is well adapted to arid and semi-arid conditions with adequate rain during the vegetative period. It grows well in neutral or slightly alkaline, deep, sandy loams, though it can tolerate a range of soil types including those exhibiting moderate salinity. Soils should be well drained, but Ber can withstand temporary flooding. Ber provides a good scope for cultivation on soils, which have so far been considered marginal or even unsuitable for growing other fruit plants. The Ber tree develops a deep tap root system within a short period of growth and, as such, adapts itself to a wide variety of soils. The Ber plants shed their leaves during summer months and new growth starts in July with the advent of rains and growth period continues till the mid of November when it is inhibited with onset of cold weather. Fruits and foliage of older trees can be damaged in frost but the trees recover (re-sprout) even after exposure to temperatures of -6oC.
The Ber fruit has high sugar content and a high level of vitamins A and C, carotene, phosphorus and calcium. The fruits of Ber is a rich source of phosphorous, calcium, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and carbohydrates than apple so thats it is also as called poor man apple. Ber fruit is the richest source of vitamin-C after guava. The leaves contain 6 per cent digestible crude protein, which is an excellent source of ascorbic acid and carotenoids. Ber can provide food security, due to sustained production of the fruit, irrespective of drought, as the tree is drought and saline tolerant and can grow on poor and degraded land. Income from the fruit, fruit products and pruned wood sold for fuel and fencing is, therefore, consistent throughout the year. The Ber tree can produce an annual fruit yield in the range of 50-250 kg/tree and is relatively easy and cheap to cultivate. Intercropping can be practiced up to 3 years of age. Ber tree starts bearing at the age of 3-5 years.
The fruit is the most well-known and used product from the Ber tree. The fresh fruit has a mild sub-acid flavour and crisp firm flesh, it can also be eaten boiled, as an addition to rice or millet, stewed or baked. Other culinary uses include preparation of pickles, jams, candied fruits, beverages, Ber butter and cheese-like pastes. The dried fruit of jujube looks similar to the fruit of date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.), but botanically they are different from each other. The leaves are used as forage for cattle/sheep/goats and are also palatable for human consumption, used as a vegetable in couscous. The timber, though very hard, can be worked to make fine-grained tools, boats, charcoal and poles for house building. Roots, bark, leaves, wood, seeds and fruits are reputed to have medicinal properties. The tree is also used as a source of tannins, dyes, silk (via silkworm fodder), shellac and nectar. The Ber tree can be planted in areas for soil conservation in dune lands, as a windbreak and as living fences for stock control.
It is often called as the poor mans fruit. It is an ideal fruit for cultivation in the arid and semi-arid zones of Punjab, Pakistan. More than 50 varieties of Ber are being cultivated in the country. The most important are: Faisalabad-1, Sufan, Ajooba, Foladi, Delhi White, Dilbahar, Mahmood Wali, Sadqia, Yazman Local, Gorh, Khobani, Bahawalpur Selection, Noki, Alu-Bukhara and Pak White. The total area under Ber cultivation in Pakistan is 2927 hectares which is mostly located in Sindh and hot area of Punjab Province with the average yield of 16744 tons per year. India, Thailand and Pakistan are the major Ber exporting countries whose major share of export goes to Middle East, Malaysia and Far East.
But unfortunately, in Pakistan, little attention has been paid to this important fruit crop thats why the cultivation of Ber is restricted to a smaller scale and farmers do not prefer its cultivation over the other fruit crops. Because, they do not get enough profit from this fruit crop as they get from other fruit crops. So due to this reason the research workers also neglected this highly valuable fruit crop in the past and during the current age. Due to the highly nutritional importance of Ber fruit and foliage (leaves) for human and herbivorous animals. Now, it is the desire of the time to give special significance of this high valuable fruit crop so that farmers fetch more and more profit from this fruit plant.
The writers are associated with the Institute of Horticultural Sciences, UAF, Faisalabad. He can be reached at