The fruit of the clove tree is a common product found on spice racks around the world. Gardeners in tropical and subtropical regions have embraced the beauty and bounty of this aromatic evergreen tree. In addition to its culinary uses, the seeds of the clove plant have an abundance of medicinal and recreational uses that have been recognized for centuries.
Clove trees, known scientifically as Syzygium aromaticum, Eugenia aromaticum and Eugenia caryophyllata, are evergreen trees, meaning they are green and lively year round. The common name, clove, is derived from the French word "clou," meaning "nail," which refers to the shape of the tree's buds.
They grow to a maximum height of 25 to 40 feet, preferring fertile, well-drained soil and temperatures that are a minimum of 59 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit. The clove tree is characterized by tender gray bark and dark green leaves with an almost leather-like texture. The silhouette of the tree is a pyramid, with a wider base tapering off to a rounded point near the top of the tree.
Clove trees can be propagated from seed or from a cutting of the tree. Seeds develop from the fragrant buds of the tree and should be planted in loose, well-drained soil. They are normally planted in pots for the first two to three years of their life. Syzygium aromaticum is a slow-growing tree and needs this sheltered period before being planted into a field or yard. Trees that do not get this harbored period may be sickly or less hardy than those that are subjected to the two to three years of sheltered growth.
The clove tree will flower at the age of 4 to 8. Until this point, the tree will not produce any flowers or fruit of note. The tree may bud before the age of 4 to 8 years, but these buds are generally unproductive. The clove plant will flower between the months of September and February. The duration of flowering depends upon climate, rainfall and altitude.
Plants should ideally get 60 or more inches of rainfall per year and do best when subjected to a rainy period and dry period. High altitudes will cause flowers to form later in the season. Flower buds are handpicked for use as an oil or seasoning during a dry period. The buds are initially green, turning to red. If left to ripen further, the buds will flower and go to seed.
Clove plants can live 100 years or more. While they begin producing buds at an early age, they are most prolific from the ages of 15 to 20 years. The crop yield of these trees is sporadic, and may be heavy one year and scant the next. After the age of 20 years, the output of the tree decreases steadily over time.
The buds of the tree are harvested from June to October, depending upon the same factors that affect flowering. The buds are harvested when they are a dark red color and are handpicked to avoid damaging the branches and affecting further output from the tree.