Pitch apple


Pitch apple or autograph tree is native to the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles and the Virgin Islands, but is widely planted as an ornamental. It reaches a height of 60 feet, with a trunk 2 feet in diameter. The leaves are up to 7 inches long by 4.5 inches wide, the surface is thick and stiff. Flowers are about 3 inches wide and have six to eight (generally seven) white and pink sepals; they are male or female in separate trees. Fruits are almost spherical and up to 2.5 inches wide, when ripe they open into 7 to 9 segments that contain many seeds surrounded by reddish pulp. It flowers and produces fruits throughout the year. The generic name honors the Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius (1526-1609). The species name means rosy, in reference to the color of the flower.

The photographed tree is east of the Agricultural Sciences new greenhouses and is the only member of the species in the campus. Pitch apple seeds sometimes germinate on other trees and the roots descend  to the ground, in the process surrounding the host’s trunk and squeezing it until the transport of food to the roots is interrupted (last photograph). For this reason it is sometimes called matapalo (tree killer), a name also applied to figs (Ficus spp.) that grow likewise. The name autograph tree originates from the fact that one can write on the leaves using a sharp instrument and the messages last for a considerable time.

Clusia rosea (Clusiaceae)