Kei Apple

This plant is “apple” in name only. The species is Dovyalis caffra from the willow family in southern Africa. The word “Kei” is likely from its native presence in the Kei River Valley. The plant is dioecious and thus to start it from seed you must wait until the seedlings bloom and then select male and female individuals. It has large hardwood thorns and a long history of use as a protective barricade from large wild animals. Consequently, if you wish to harvest the fruit and retain flesh on your hands and arms it is advisable to espalier the plants. The taste of the fruit is worth it. At maturity the fruits are about 1-1.5 inches in diameter and packed with so much flavor it is difficult to describe. I usually get a meager crop in the Spring, a robust crop in the summer, and sometimes an additional crop in the late Fall. Interestingly enough, over time the thorns sprout leaves and become branches - with new thorns of course!

Kei Apple seedlings 2014-01

Initial espalier 2014-10

Kei Apple espalier 2016-03

Kei Apple immature fruit

Kei Apple thorns

Kei Apple thorn tip sprout


Oooh! That future putting course will have built in natural hazards. :wink:

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Look like honey locust thorns, Ouch.

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Here’s a cluster of fruits among others that I hope ripen soon :slightly_smiling:
Some male flowers are starting to emerge so perhaps the beginning of a summer crop is on its way too.


Richard you grow the most interesting things. Thanks for sharing


That looks like a health hazard to harvest!! Nice thorns, hope they taste good enough for the wounds you will suffer!

Awesome pics Richard. Is this related to trifoliate orange? I grew them once and although they never had time to fruit before I moved, they looked very similar in appearance.

Oh…nevermind, I see you mentioned they are in the willow family. Gosh, they sure have a “citrusy” look.

When they’re ripe they have the color of Apricot!

getting there …


Very interesting and educational Thank you.

When the fruit ripen, could you please cut open and show us what inside look like?.

The leaves and the thorns remind me of lime we grew back in Thailand but the thorns on this Kei apple put thorns on lime to shame.

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Of course!


That fruit looks like it would be tasty. Is it firm or squishy (scientific term)? Looks very juicy…is it? Does it taste similar to anything we would be familiar with?

Thanks for posting the photo btw.

The fruit is physically similar to a thin skinned plum. The taste is “wow”. Many different flavors hit your mouth at once. :smiley:


Today I harvested the first two of the summer crop. Lots more on the way!


One of the several male and female Kei Apple plants I noticed at the San Diego Zoo today.


Today I spent an hour tending to my Kei Apple espalier – tying up new lateral growth along the trellis and removing about 40 gallons worth of unwanted branches.


Looks great

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Kei apple male flowers


Here’s two opposing thorns, each with sprouts about 1/2 inch from the tip.