Clusia: location, care & propagation of autograph trees

Katja
Katja
Katja
Katja

I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

Clusia plants resemble rubber trees because of their leaves but it can also produce beautiful pink flowers. Here you can learn everything about the location, care and propagation of the balsam apple.

Autograph tree in pot on side table
Autograph trees have thick, green leaves and can be kept indoors as houseplants [Photo: Benoit Bruchez/ Shutterstock.com]

It does not take much to marvel at the autograph tree in your own home. Once you call a specimen your own and have chosen a suitable location, only occasional maintenance is required. Find out here what you need to consider and how you can propagate Clusia yourself.

Clusia: flower, origin and properties

The autograph tree (Clusia) is a genus in the Clusicacea family. Often, the name “balsam apple” is used synonymously for the species Clusia rosea and Clusia major. The succulent is originally from the Caribbean and is also found in the tropics of South and Central America. It is an evergreen, hemiepiphytic plant – that is, Clusia begins its life in the crowns of other trees and over time develops roots towards the ground. In nature, the balsam apple becomes a shrub or tree up to 18 metres in height, while in indoor culture under ideal conditions it can reach a height of three metres. However, the plant may retain smaller dimensions depending on the pot size and pruning measures.

The leaves of Clusia are large, fleshy and a rich green. They are reminiscent of some species of ficus, which is why the plant is also called balsam fig. However, there is no close relationship here. When the autograph tree is comfortable, it forms decorative white or pink flowers in summer which smell of vanilla. A plant lamp can support the formation of flowers. The small, apple-like fruits, on the other hand, are extremely rare in houseplants because both a female and a male plant must be present for fertilisation. Both flower sexes give off a sweet-smelling sap that is thought to attract insects for pollination. The flowers must be pollinated by hand with a brush in the absence of insects.

Why is Clusia also called autograph tree? Since the leaves are very thick and leathery, words can be carved into them using pointed or sharp objects. Thus, it is also possible to leave an autograph on the leaves of the tree, which has earned the plant the name of “autograph tree”.

Close-up of clusia fruit
Clusia fruits look similar to apples, but are in fact inedible [Photo: Zulashai/ Shutterstock.com]

The most beautiful species and varieties

When speaking of the autograph tree, the species Clusia rosea is often meant, although of course other species and varieties exist.

  • Clusia rosea ‘Princess’: this variety is widely used as a houseplant. It has slightly smaller leaves than the Clusia rosea.
  • Clusia major: Clusia major and Clusia rosea look very similar and are therefore usually considered as one species. They differ slightly in leaf shape and colour.
  • Clusia rosea ‘Variegata’: the leaves of this variety are variegated green and white, making them very striking.
  • Clusia lanceolata: with its narrow, pointed leaves, this species looks somewhat different to its relatives. However, it does not differ in terms of care.
Variegated clusia leaves
Clusia variegata has white variegated leaves [Photo: SUJITTRA PHONGVIVAT/ Shutterstock.com]

How to grow Clusia: location, timing and procedure

The autograph tree is a rather undemanding plant and thrives without much care if placed in a suitable location.

Place Clusia in a bright and warm place. The little tree does not tolerate direct sun or full shade, but sufficient brightness is important for healthy growth. The temperature should be around 20 °C all year round and should not drop below 15 °C. If these temperatures are also reached outside in the summer, you can put the tree in a sheltered place on the balcony. Clusia also likes high humidity, typical of tropical climates. Such air is achieved in the bathroom, for example, but this location must be bright enough for the balsam apple. Otherwise, you can regularly spray the plant with water, or place a bowl with water on the heater in winter.

White and pink-red clusia flower
Clusia flowers are white and pink [Photo: Wagner Campelo/ Shutterstock.com]

After purchase, the Clusia should be repotted directly into a substrate that is optimally adapted to its needs. The soil should be permeable because the tree needs adequate moisture, but does not tolerate waterlogging. For this purpose, a high-quality plant soil can be mixed with 30% sand. Our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost can be used as a base here. This stores water and nutrients very well with the clay minerals it contains and gradually releases them to the plant. The use of natural raw materials when producing our compost also protects the environment. To help water drainage, a layer of clay shards or pebbles at the bottom of the pot is recommended.

Flowering autograph tree outdoors amongst other trees
Clusia is a tree and can reach heights of three metres indoors [Photo: Krit TOP Ruttapong/ Shutterstock.com]

Balsam apple in a jar: It is also possible to keep the plant in a jar, but this requires some effort. Excessively high or low water levels easily cause fungal diseases. Therefore, it is best to fill the jar with water so that the fine roots are covered, but the thicker roots are still exposed to the air. Use lime-free water and replace it once a week, cleaning the glass as well.

Clusia care

The right care includes watering and fertilising, as well as regular dusting of the large leaves. Maintenance is limited to the growing season between March and October.

Clusia plant indoors in pot
Autograph trees do best in bright, warm locations [Photo: witita leelasutanon/ Shutterstock.com]

Watering, pruning and fertilising autograph trees

Watering: To water the plant, it is best to use soft, lime-free water such as rainwater. Stale tap water is also good. Before watering, check the substrate: if the soil sticks to your finger, the substrate is still moist enough. As soon as the surface dries, watering should be done. About 15 minutes after watering, pour away the excess water from the planter to prevent root rot. Limp leaves indicate an increased need for water.

Fertilising: During the growing season in summer, Clusia needs an application of nutrients about once a month. It is best to use a high-quality liquid fertiliser, as this can be easily administered when watering indoor plants. For example, one sustainable option includes our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food, which is perfectly designed to meet the needs of foliage plants. The nutrients contained sustainably nourish the leaves and roots of your plants and microorganisms promote sufficient growth.

Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
star-placeholder star-placeholder star-placeholder star-placeholder star-placeholder
star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating
(5/5)
  • Perfect for a wide variety of houseplants & foliage plants
  • Liquid fertiliser for robust plants & healthy growth
  • Quick & easy application - child & pet friendly
£10.99

Pruning: You can prune your young balsam apple to stimulate branching – preferably in the spring. The older your sapling gets, the less often it will need pruning. Regularly removing dead leaves and pruning later only ensure that the tree does not exceed the desired size.

Overwintering: Clusia needs warm temperatures all year round, which should not fall below 15 °C. In dry heated air, you can provide higher humidity by placing a bowl of water near the plant.

Tip: The large, green leaves should be regularly cleaned of dust with a damp cloth.

Brown dots on Clusia

If the plant gets brown spots or yellow discolouration on the leaves, it is often the result of too much sun exposure. Place the plant in a bright place without direct sun or protect Clusia at midday, for example, with a curtain.

Autograph tree loses its leaves

If the autograph tree is too wet, leaf drop may occur. In this case, check the substrate and repot the plant in a fresh and dry substrate. Water a little less than before and regularly monitor the moisture of the soil. Watering should be done only when the substrate is slightly dry on the surface.

Close-up of Clusia leaves outdoors
It is important to regularly dust the leaves of your Clusia [Photo: NgurahAgus/ Shutterstock.com]

Repotting Clusia

As with almost all plants, spring is the best time to repot. This should be done about every two to three years. First, check whether the substrate is completely rooted. In this case, you should choose a slightly larger container and plant the balsam apple tree in permeable substrate. A layer of clay shards ensures the necessary water drainage. If the root ball does not yet fill the container, it is sufficient to replace the upper layer of substrate. When repotting, you can also mix a little stock fertiliser into the soil so that you do not have to worry about nourishing Clusia the following year. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is suitable here, as it contains all the important nutrients as a complete fertiliser and can be used for many plants.

Propagation

It is best to use cuttings to propagate autograph trees. To do this, simply cut off one or more shoots diagonally from the plant with a sharp knife in the spring. These should have leaves, but not flower buds, and be at least 10 cm long.

Clusia cutting with plastic bag over it
Placing a plastic bag over a Clusia cutting helps to up the humidity [Photo: PATHOMRAT PRAERIN/ Shutterstock.com]

Now there are two possibilities: the cutting can be placed directly in a water glass, making root formation directly observable. The water should be replaced every few days. A plastic bag over the glass increases humidity and accelerates growth.

Alternatively, let the cuttings dry for about two days and then plant them in a growing substrate – such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, mixed with a little sand. This, with its lower nutrient content, ensures strong root growth at a young age, so that the small plants can find support and grow magnificently in the future. Keep the substrate evenly moist without overwatering it. Here, too, a plastic bag put over it can accelerate the growth.

Milky sap oozing out of Clusia stem
Some plants, like the autograph tree, contain a poisonous, milky sap [Photo: Dudikov Sergey/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: Individual leaves can also be used for propagation in the same way as shoots.

Is Clusia poisonous?

Since the plant is poisonous – both for humans and animals – it should not be consumed under any circumstances.

The rubber plant looks quite similar to the balsam apple, even though there is no relationship. We show how to care for the rubber plant, and give useful tips on location and propagation.

Subscribe to the Plantura newsletter