The Clusia Rosea, also known as the autograph tree, is a vivid and captivating tropical plant that can be kept either indoors or outdoors in a warm climate. The olive-colored leathery leaves of these densely foliated tropical trees can bring texture and deep, dull green color to your houseplant collection. Growers who love succulents will love this succulent little tree.
The autograph tree isn’t difficult to care for, but you need to understand what its growing requirements are to get the most out of this houseplant’s fast growth rate. Keep reading for an overview of what you need to successfully grow these trees in the care guide and table below.
|Botanical Name||Clusia rosea|
|Common Name||Autograph tree, copey, cuppy, Scotch attorney, pitch apple, balsam apple|
|Plant Type||Tropical Shrub/Tree|
|Mature Size||8-25 feet tall|
|Sun Exposure||Bright indirect light; can tolerate partial shade as a houseplant|
|Soil Type||Soft, loose, sandy soil|
|Soil pH||Can survive in alkaline, acidic, or neutral soil|
|Hardiness Zone||Zone 11 – 12|
|Native Area||Florida, Mexico, Central America, northern South America, West Indies|
|Toxicity||Toxic to cats, dogs, and people|
How to Identify Clusia Rosea
Clusia Rosea looks a lot like common strangler fig varieties that are often kept as tropical houseplants. The autograph tree also grows in a similar fashion, with its seeds growing on a larger host tree and the Clusia Rosea eventually putting out aerial roots to supplement its short trunk. The plant’s seeds and berries are favored by birds and other wildlife.
Here are a few of the ways you can identify an autograph tree:
- Large paddle-shaped leaves: The tree has large, dark green paddle-shaped leaves a little smaller than your palm. New leaves are light green and get darker with maturity.
- Leaf texture: Pitch apple plants have a thick, leathery texture to the touch. Their leaves are thick enough that you can scratch a message into the surface of them, hence the nickname “autograph tree.”
- Flower: The pitch apple is known for its beautiful cup-shaped white flowers with a ring of pink or reddish coloring around its center. These showy flowers mature into green fruits.
- Fruit: The green poisonous fruits are found on the branch tips and are filled with bright red seeds. They can get up to 3-inches in diameter, and once ripened, these persistent fruits turn black. Then the black material surrounding the fruit will split open.
Since juvenile and small pitch apple plants look very similar to several other plants that are commonly kept, the best way to identify them before purchase is to check the identification label. This will identify the plant as well as give you a brief overview of the growing conditions it requires.
How to Care for an Autograph Tree
The autograph tree is a fast-growing and smart-looking houseplant that is easy to keep for both novices and veteran houseplant owners. Because this evergreen tree can thrive in a wide range of temperatures, soil conditions, and light exposure, it is very forgiving of caretaking mistakes.
However, there are a few things you should keep in mind when caring for a pitch apple to keep it happy and healthy. Here are some of the major factors you should look at when it comes to Clusia Rosea care.
When it comes to lighting, the autograph tree is pretty flexible compared to some other types of tropical species. These trees do best in moderate to bright indirect light, but can also tolerate partial shade.
The biggest risk when lighting pitch apple trees is full direct sunlight. Like many tropical plants, the autograph tree is used to the filtered light of the jungle canopy, and in the wild, this plant would almost never be exposed to the scorching tropical sun without being covered by the shade of many trees first.
Here are a few ways you can help the bright indirect sunlight that the Clusia Rosea prefers in your home environment:
- Use curtains: Sheer curtains installed in the window where the tree is posted can help filter out the direct sunlight, but still offer plenty of bright light to help keep the plant energized.
- Use a grow light: Full-spectrum grow lights provide all of the light that these plants need without exposing it to the direct, hot ultraviolet rays of the sun, which can ultimately be damaging to it. Grow lights can also usually be adjusted or put on a timer so that you can carefully control the amount of light your plant receives.
- Block some of the incoming full sun with other sun-loving plants: If you have the autograph tree as part of a larger houseplant collection, placing it in front of larger houseplants that are more tolerant of direct light will help it receive indirect bright light while reducing its direct exposure to the sun.
Watering is one of the easiest ways to mess up when it comes to caring for tropical houseplants like pitch apple trees. The reason is that these plants love moist soils at all times and is not very drought tolerant, but it also can’t tolerate being soggy either.
The pitch apple is salt tolerant since it is native to coastal areas, and will not be damaged by salt spray, storm surges, and salty wind from the sea. This makes it a useful landscaping choice for seaside and beach gardens in tropical climates.
Soggy soil is the leading cause of root rot, one of the most common illnesses you’ll come across in tropical houseplants. Root rot is almost always the result of overwatering the plant, which can happen if the plant is watered according to a schedule rather than when it actually needs water.
Instead of just guessing how much water your houseplant needs, there is a much easier way to determine whether it needs to be watered or not. Test the top two inches of the pot’s soil for moisture to see if the plant needs additional water.
These plants do best in a soft, loose, sandy soil that retains moisture well, but also allows for aeration of the plant’s roots. An equal mix of perlite, potting sand, and organic soil should provide enough looseness to keep the plant from becoming root-bound since it grows very quickly compared to other houseplants.
This plant is tolerant of many different soil types outdoors, making it a useful and practical addition as a tropical landscape planting.
Going with a commercially-prepared potting mix can be easier than adding different soil additives together if you don’t feel like making your own.
If you choose a commercial mix, it’s always better to go with a tropical houseplant potting mix rather than using native soil or garden topsoil.
The autograph tree can survive in a relatively large range of temperatures, doing well between the temperatures of 59 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Clusia Rosea cannot tolerate temperatures lower than 50 degrees, which means that it cannot survive outdoors. It tolerates hot summer temperatures well but needs to be brought in before autumn temperature turns.
The pitch apple makes a great indoor tree since most households keep their ambient temperature at an agreeable temperature for it to thrive.
Like many tropical houseplants that reside in the rainforest, autograph trees require a high degree of humidity to do well.
Unfortunately, most households keep their humidity at a much lower humidity range than tropical houseplants prefer. Here are a few methods you can use to increase the ambient humidity for these moisture-loving plants:
- Use a humidifier. Installing a humidifier in the room where the plant is kept can keep the plant happy without making your entire house muggy.
- Mist the leaves. Mist regularly to help increase humidity when the water evaporates, and it can also help keep the leaves dust-free. Misting an autograph tree should be done at least once a week.
- Use a pebble tray. Placing a shallow gravel tray filled with water at the base of the plant can provide it with consistent humidity as the water in the tray slowly evaporates.
An autograph tree does best when it is fertilized once a month with a balanced indoor plant fertilizer. A 10-10-10 formula of fertilizer works well, and you can use organic, liquid, granulated, or slow-release fertilizer forms.
For outdoor pitch apple trees, the hedge does best if it is fed once a season in early spring, summer, and autumn.
How to Grow Clusia Rosea
The easiest way to propagate a new autograph tree is to grow it from stem cuttings. As long as a stem cutting has at least a few leaves on it, stem cuttings from the plant can grow easily in both water and soil. The autograph trees can also be grown from seeds, but they grow faster from a cutting.
To propagate Clusia Rosea in soil, perform the following steps:
- Prepare a pot. Ensure that the pot has drainage holes in the bottom to prevent the build-up of water in the pot, which can cause root rot.
- Cut a stem cutting. Choose a four to six-inch cutting of the plant that has several leaves on it, then sever the stem with a sharp, sterilized knife or pair of pruning shears.
- Plant the cutting. After you have a cutting, poke a narrow hole in the potting soil (a pencil or pen works well) and insert the cutting in the hole.
- Cover the cutting. Putting a glass cloche or a cover of plastic wrap over the stem cutting once it is planted will help keep the humidity high in the pot, increasing the chance that the cutting will develop roots quickly. Place the pot in a warm location with bright, indirect light.
- Uncover the plant. After a week or two, the cutting should be well-established and the cloche can be removed from the top of the plant.
Common Clusia Rosea Pitch Apple Problems
Even though pitch apple is hardy when kept as a houseplant, growers still run into a few husbandry problems with these plants that can affect their appearance and health. Below you’ll find some of the most common problems found in growing these plants.
Like many toxic houseplants, the autograph tree doesn’t fall prey to many indoor insects. However, there are a few serious pests that you might find on your plant:
- Thrips: Thrips are small insects that can damage the leaves of pitch apple plants. Neem oil sprays provide an effective deterrent and organic pesticide to help evade them.
- Scale: Scale insects are little bumpy bugs that appear as brown dots that attach themselves to the stem of the plant. Scale infestations can cause leaf drops, stunted leaf growth, and brown pockmarks on the plant. Insecticidal soap can be used to prevent scale, but once an infestation has formed, manual removal is your best bet.
Keeping your autograph tree in a suitably humid environment can make it less susceptible to insect invasion. It’s also a good idea to preemptively treat your plant with neem oil or insecticidal soap periodically as a pest deterrent to prevent infestations from getting started.
The condition of the leaves in these plants can be a useful view into the general health and condition of the plant. Here are some of the common leaf problems you might run into with Clusia Rosea:
- Yellow leaves: Yellow leaves are one of the most common problems seen in pitch apple plants, and this problem is almost always caused by overwatering. If you see yellowing leaves, check to make sure your plant’s pot is draining properly and withhold water until the soil has a chance to dry out.
- Brown spots: Brown spots on the leaves of the autograph tree is usually an indicator of pests or a bacterial infection, but can also be another indication of overwatering. Treat the plant by checking moisture levels, removing any diseased leaves, and treating the plant for pests.
- Leaf drop: If an autograph tree begins to drop its leaves, this is usually an indicator of temperature stress. Allowing the plant to live in temperatures below 59 degrees will cause the plant to become unhappy and drop its leaves. The plants that are allowed to get overheated or exposed to too much full sun can also lose their leaves.
The biggest problem that people run into with pitch apple plants is root rot. Root rot is what happens when the soil in the plant’s pot becomes waterlogged and soggy. This prevents the exchange of oxygen with the plant’s roots and can eventually cause the roots to die. Without a strong root system to feed from the soil, the autograph tree will soon follow its root system in death.
Root rot is usually caused by two major mistakes:
- Overwatering: Watering the soil of the autograph tree to the point that it is constantly wet will drown the roots, killing them. Avoid this problem by monitoring the moisture levels of the plant carefully by testing the soil instead of just watering it whenever you remember to do so.
- Lack of drainage: If the pitch apple’s pot lacks drainage holes or they become clogged by dirt and roots, this can prevent water from draining out the bottom of the pot after watering. This will eventually leave the roots in standing water that will cause them to die. Check to make sure that the pot has adequate drainage.
An indication of root rot other than yellowing leaves and an obviously dying plant is a rank, heavy smell of decay around the base of the plant or in the soil of the pot. To try and stave off root rot, repot the plant in a pot with fresh soil and allow it to dry out before watering again. However, plants that have begun to suffer root rot may not recover.
Clusia Rosea Plant Tips
The autograph trees are not complicated to keep, but knowing a few tips on their care can make it easier to keep them healthy and happy. Here are some tricks for getting the most out of the pitch apple as a houseplant:
- Watch moisture levels. Making sure the autograph tree gets regular watering without getting it too wet is probably the biggest challenge in keeping this nicely formed plant. Check the moisture level of the soil a few times a week to keep on top of how much water the plant needs, and be sure to keep the humidity high.
- Re-pot the plant often. The pitch apple plant is a fast-growing and wide-spreading plant. It can quickly become root-bound if it is kept in a pot that is too small for it. Make sure to repot your Clusia Rosea at least once or twice a year or keep it in a large pot from the beginning so it has plenty of room to expand as it grows.
- Keep away from pets and children. Like many tropical houseplants, Clusia Rosea is toxic to both animals and people. Make sure that the plant is kept away from toddlers, cats, dogs, rabbits, and other pets that might accidentally ingest it.
Clusia Rosea can be grown as either an indoor plant or an outdoor plant if it is grown in Zones 11 and 12. Clusia Rosea can’t be kept in non-tropical climate zones outdoors because it can’t tolerate temperatures of fifty degrees or less.
In Hawaii, Clusia Rosea are considered invasive horticultural plants because they grow so well there and out-compete fragile native species. Clusia Rosea can also be considered invasive because it uses a “strangler” method of growing. The tree will germinate on the surface of another tree and compete with it for food and light.
The Clusia Rosea drops leaves as a result of temperature stress. If this tropical plant is left outdoors in temperatures less than fifty degrees or placed in hot direct sunlight, it can start dropping leaves that are damaged by the temperature fluctuations.
Grown indoors, pitch apple trees can easily grow four or five feet tall if it is given enough room to expand. However, in outdoor tropical areas, this fast-growing tree can reach a height of 25 feet in maturity.
Clusia Rosea Conclusion
Clusia Rosea is one of the most rewarding houseplants you can keep in your collection. With its unique inscribable leaves and its fast-growing habit, it’ll soon be one of the biggest and most beautiful plants you own.