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NMSU professor continues expanding research on Chinese fruit in Southwest

Release Date: 02 Aug 2022
NMSU professor continues expanding research on Chinese fruit in Southwest

Growing crops, especially fruit, has no borders when it comes to research at New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. One professor has been working with jujube fruit, also known as the Chinese date, for more than 12 years and continues to explore how well it produces in the Southwest region.

Shengrui Yao, an extension fruit specialist in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, joined NMSU in 2010 and quickly noticed the potential for bringing in jujube research to the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcade. 

“In China, they have over 800 jujube cultivars. Here in the U.S., we have a little over 100 or so. When I first came to NMSU, I noticed there was potential for a little jujube patch here,” Yao said. 

Producing reliable crops in the Southwest is tricky at times, and certain fruit trees, such as apples or peaches, may not produce fruit annually due to late frost. Yao explained the late frost normally ends during mid-May in northern New Mexico, so some of these fruits that bloom early have over a month to fight with mother nature. 

"When I got here, I tried to find a crop that could produce more reliably, work for their operations, and deal with less frost. The jujubes bloom much later and can bloom for a two-month period. We have apples some years, but jujubes every year,” Yao explained. "That’s why I started to work hard to do this and give us more options. In early spring 2011, I got over 30 jujube cultivars imported from China and eventually started a whole program based on that.”

Throughout the years, Yao discovered jujubes can grow and produce very well in the Southwest, specifically between central and southern New Mexico. Since the Chinese fruit was successfully growing with excellent quality, the program was able to expand on further studies. 

“We received funding for our field projects, big and small, and we did some studies on growing habits, how they flower and how they fruit. Also, on whether they’re self-pollination or not and nutrient dynamics during fruit maturation,” Yao said. 

Different varieties of jujube work best for specific uses, such as drying, ornamental, multipurpose, and fresh eating. Yao described jujube fruit as very rich and nutritious, and said they are especially high in vitamin C. 

“The vitamin C content is much higher than most temperate fruit. Depending on the cultivar, their vitamin C content is around 200 to 600 milligrams per 100 grams fresh weight, whereas citrus is around 50. The jujube is 10 to 12 times higher, and really is a nutritious fruit,” she said. 

A cultivar trial to evaluate the fruit’s production has opened more doors for jujube research. 

“When we did the cultivar trial, we imported them and then had a two-year quarantine period from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fortunately, this fruit has almost no pests and diseases in the Southwest. For the humid areas, they have more pest problems,” Yao said. “After the quarantine period, we started propagating more of them and established the cultivar trial, which brought certain cultivars here to the college and the Los Lunas center.” 

Given time, Yao realized there was more potential to grow jujube fruit in the area and scoped out other acres of land near campus. “That’s when the Alcade and Los Lunas trials were established in 2015, and Tucumcari and Leyendecker Centers established them two years later in 2017. So, these cultivar trials really are a great demonstration for local growers and hopefully influence growers across the U.S.,” she said. 

Yao said the jujube research program at NMSU is currently collaborating with scientists at the USDA Beltsville, Maryland, who focus on genotyping in an effort to advance further studies. 

“We give our jujube leaf samples to them and they give us preliminary data. We will continue sending more to try and get more information on U.S. cultivars covered and then separate them into groups,” Yao explained. “Some of them probably are similar, and some we can group them if they are similar, so I’m quite excited about it.” 

Yao has been conducting jujube workshops that focus on growing habits and pruning, and in the fall, student researchers will examine flowering, how they fruit and fruit tasting. She plans to continue this work and help local and nationwide growers benefit from this ongoing jujube fruit research. 

To learn more about jujube research happening at NMSU, visit https://aces.nmsu.edu/jujube/index.html.

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