From the book
Fruits of Warm Climates
by Julia F. Morton
Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.
The black sapote is not, as might be assumed, allied to either the
sapote (Pouteria sapota
H.E. Moore & Stearn) or the white sapote (Casimiroa edulis Llave
& Lex.). Instead, it is closely related to the persimmon in the
family Ebenaceae. For many years it has been widely misidentified as Diospyros ebenaster
Retz., a name confusingly applied also to a strictly wild species of
the West Indies now distinguished as D. revoluta Poir. The presently
accepted binomial for the black sapote is D. digyna Jacq.
(syn. D. obtusifolia
Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.).
In Spanish, it is known variously as sapote, sapote negro, zapote,
zapote negro, zapote prieto, zapote de mico, matasano (or matazano) de
mico, or ebano. It has been called black persimmon in Hawaii.
Plate LXI: BLACK SAPOTE, Diospyros digyna
The tree is handsome, broad-topped, slow-growing, to 80 ft (25 m) in
height, with furrowed trunk to 30 in (75 cm) in diameter, and black
bark. The evergreen, alternate leaves, elliptic-oblong to
oblong-lanceolate, tapered at both ends or rounded at the base and
bluntly acute at the apex, are leathery, glossy, 4 to 12 in (10-30 cm)
long. The flowers, borne singly or in groups of 3 to 7 in the leaf
axils, are tubular, lobed, white, 3/8 to 5/8 in (1-1.6 cm) wide, with
persistent green calyx. Some have both male and female organs, large
calyx lobes and are faintly fragrant; others are solely male and have a
pronounced gardenia-like scent and a few black specks in the throat of
the corolla. The fruit is bright-green and shiny at first; oblate or
nearly round; 2 to 5 in (5-12.5 cm) wide; with a prominent, 4-lobed,
undulate calyx, 1 1/2 to 2 in (4-5 cm) across, clasping the base. On
ripening, the smooth, thin skin becomes olive-green and then rather
muddy-green. Within is a mass of glossy, brown to very dark-brown,
almost black, somewhat jelly-like pulp, soft, sweet and mild in flavor.
In the center, there may be 1 to 10 flat, smooth, brown seeds, 3/4 to 1
in (2-2.5 cm) long, but the fruits are often seedless.
Origin and Distribution
The black sapote is native along both coasts of Mexico from Jalisco to
Chiapas, Veracruz and Yucatan and in the forested lowlands of Central
America, and it is frequently cultivated throughout this range. It was
apparently carried by the Spaniards to Amboina before 1692, and to the
Philippines long before 1776, and eventually reached Malacca,
Mauritius, Hawaii, Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican
Republic. In 1919, seeds from Guadalajara, Mexico, were sent to the
Bureau of Plant Industry of the United States Department of
Agriculture; cuttings and seeds were received from the Isle of Pines,
Cuba, in 1915; seeds arrived from Hawaii in 1916 and 1917; others from
Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1920. Numerous seedlings have been grown in southern
California but all have been killed by low temperatures. The tree does
very well in southern Florida, though it has been grown mainly as a
curiosity. Outside of its homeland, the fruit has not achieved any
great popularity. In Mexico, the fruits are regularly marketed.
Certain trees tend to bear very large, seedless or nearly seedless
fruits maturing in summer instead of winter as most do, but no varietal
names have been attached to them in Florida.
The black sapote is not strictly tropical inasmuch as it is hardy as
far north as Palm Beach County, Florida, if protected from frost during
the first few years. Trees that have become well established have
withstood occasional brief exposures to 28º or 30º F
(-2.22º or-1.11º C). In Mexico, the tree is
cultivated up to elevations of 5,000 or even 6,000 ft (1,500-1,800 m).
The tree has a broad adaptability as to terrain. In Mexico it grows
naturally in dry forests or on alluvial clay near streams or lagoons
where it is frequently subject to flooding. Nevertheless, it thrives on
moist sandy loam, on well-drained sand or oolitic limestone with very
little top-soil in southern Florida. It is said to flourish on all the
soils of Cuba.
The black sapote is usually grown from seeds, which remain viable for
several months in dry storage and germinate in about 30 days after
planting in flats. Vegetative propagation is not commonly practiced but
the tree has been successfully air-layered and also shield-budded using
Seedlings are best transplanted to pots when about 3 in (7.5 cm) high
and they are set in the field when 1 to 2 years old, at which time they
are 1 to 2 ft (30-60 cm) in height. They should be spaced at least 40
ft (12 m) apart. Most begin to bear in 5 to 6 years but some trees may
take somewhat longer. The tree is naturally vigorous and receives
little or no cultural attention in Florida though it has been noted
that it benefits from fertilization.
In Mexico, the fruits are common in the markets from August to January.
Most black sapotes in Florida ripen in December, January or February.
Certain trees, especially the large-fruited types, regularly come into
season in June, others in July and August.
It is difficult to detect the slight color change of mature fruits amid
the dense foliage of the black sapote tree. Many black sapotes ripen,
fall and smash on the ground before one has the chance to pick them,
and this is one reason why the tree is not favored for landscaping in
urban areas. An experienced picker can harvest the fruits at the
green-mature or olive-green stage with a cutting pole equipped with a
No yield figures are available but the tree is noted for bearing well.
In 1899, the annual crop in Mexico was valued at $27,000, a
considerable sum at that time.
Fruits picked when full-grown but unripe (bright-green) have ripened in
10 days at room temperature. Therefore it is at this stage that they
must be picked for marketing and shipping. Firm, olive-green fruits
will ripen in 2 to 6 days. Fruits displayed on markets in Mexico are
somewhat shriveled and wrinkled. The black sapote is very soft when
fully ripe. Though it may remain fit for eating if held for a few days
in cold storage, it is too soft to stand handling.
Unkind writers have employed unflattering phrases in describing the
flesh of the black sapote and have probably hindered its acceptance.
This seems quite unreasonable because the color and texture of the pulp
closely match stewed prunes, to which there seems to be no aesthetic
objection. In the Philippines, the seeded pulp is served as dessert
with a little milk or orange juice poured over it. The addition of
lemon or lime juice makes the pulp desirable as a filling for pies and
other pastry. It is also made into ice cream. In Mexico, the pulp may
be mashed, beaten or passed through a colander and mixed with orange
juice or brandy, and then served with or without whipped cream. Also,
they sometimes mix the pulp with wine, cinnamon and sugar and serve as
dessert. Some Floridians use an eggbeater to blend the pulp with milk
and ground nutmeg. A foamy, delicious beverage is made by mixing the
pulp with canned pineapple juice in an electric blender. In Central
America, the fermented fruits are made into a liqueur somewhat like
*According to analyses in Mexico and Guatemala.
|Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*
**The ascorbic acid content is said to be about twice that of the
Unripe black sapotes are very astringent, irritant, caustic and bitter,
and have been used as fish poison in the Philippines.
Wood: The wood is yellowish to deep-yellow with black markings near the
heart of old trunks; compact and suitable for cabinetwork but little
used. Reports of dark wood utilized for furniture are probably the
result of confusion with other species of Diospyros.
Medicinal Uses: The crushed bark and leaves are applied as a blistering
poultice in the Philippines. In Yucatan, the leaf decoction is employed
as an astringent and is taken internally as a febrifuge. Various
preparations are used against leprosy, ringworm and itching skin
Note: The rare, wild relative D.
revoluta Poir., mentioned at the beginning, has not only
been included with the black sapote under the erroneous D. ebanaster, but
has also been dealt with as D.
nigra Perr. and under at least 8 other binomials. In
Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Montserrat, Dominica and
Guadeloupe it is variously called black apple, barbara, bambarat,
barbequois, bois noir, bois negresse, ebene, guayabota, plaqueminier,
and zapote negro. It has smaller, thicker leaves and smaller fruits
than the black sapote and the calyx is square. Little, Woodbury and
Wadsworth say the fruits are poisonous and, with the bark, used as fish