Pitch Apple: Should It Be Pitched as a Tree or a Shrub?

Let’s say you have a sad little bare area in your Bradenton landscape and think a playful ornamental would liven things up a tad. A tree sure would be nice, but on the other hand, what about a shrub or two? Allow us to pitch the Pitch Apple – a paddle-leafed plant that can be either. Also known as an Autograph Plant, this showstopper is native to Florida and can be used as a wide-spreading, densely foliated shrub or trained to grow into a tree.

Why the nickname? Because the leathery leaves can be “autographed” with a fingernail, toothpick or wooden skewer – a whole lot of fun at outdoor barbecues and sure to get your party started.

pitch apple

Photo courtesy of South Florida Plant Guide

The Pitch Apple does very well in variable light conditions and is highly resistant to disease and insects. You’ll want to protect it during a freeze, though, as it gets a little cranky. In the summer, a beautiful pink and white flower may appear at night or sometimes during overcast days.  This bloom is 2-3 inches long and is followed by a small, green poisonous “apple” that you’ll want to refrain from plucking.

So back to the original question. Tree or shrub? Well, the Pitch Apple makes a wonderful, evergreen screening material if left as a multi-stemmed shrub, and you can pretty much prune it be maintained at any height.

But if you prefer the tree version (known as a “standard”), you can train it to have a single elegant trunk. In the Bradenton and Sarasota areas, Pitch Apple trees typically grow to be about eight-to-ten feet tall, but we’ve seen it as tall as 20-to-25 feet. Same holds true for hedges.

The best part of this drought-tolerant champion is that it tolerates salty sea spray beautifully and is one of the local go-to plants for seaside landscapes throughout Southwest Florida. It’s so veritably versatile (the black material surrounding the seeds was once used to caulk the seams of boats leading to the name pitch apple) that we’re certain the species will be a staple of Florida landscapes for a long time to come.

If all this makes you want to sign up for an Autograph Plant of your very own, contact the award-winning designers at ArtisTree Landscape Maintenance & Design at 941.488.8897. Just ask for Jenni. Or, visit www.artistree.com to view ArtisTree’s entire design portfolio.

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