From the Archives
of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia, inc.
by Wm. F. Whitman
The Mamey Sapote in Florida
The Mamey Sapote (Calocarpum sapota)
has been grown and has fruited in Florida for probably close to a
century. Yet it is strange how few trees of this Central American fruit
are to be found here. However, with our recently-acquired Cuban
population which runs well over a quarter million, interest in this
sapodilla (Manilkara zapata, Syn. Achras zapota L.) relative has taken on a new look.
in small containers bring $6.00 or more, and small grafted plants up to
$45.00 each. The demand for the fresh fruit so greatly exceeds the
supply that a price of $2.00 or more a pound is common. One Miami
grower has had thousand-dollar annual crops off a single tree!
Mamey Sapote is indigenous to the American tropics where it makes a
large tree, attaining heights of 65'. It has a thick trunk and heavy
branches. The leaves, dark green on top and lighter green beneath,
could be said to resemble those of the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)
but are much larger, reaching 15" or more in length. These form
clusters toward the ends of the branches. The small white flowers
appear in the fall by the thousands, encircling the mature wood of the
branches. The first two or three annual blooms to appear usually result
in no fruit set. Vegetatively propagated, the Mamey can come into
bearing at an age of about six or seven years upon attaining a height
When young, the plant is tender and should be protected
from frost and high winds. Freezing temperatures, much below 28°F.
and of moderate duration, can seriously injure even mature trees. In
the writer's opinion, the most serious drawback to cultivation of the
Mamey is its slowness to come into bearing, which can be 15 years for a
seedling. Fortunately, grafting or air-layering can reduce this waiting
time by half or even more. Under favorable conditions, the Mamey makes
a large tree in Florida. The writer's three bearing trees, the largest
of which is 34' in height at an age of twenty years, have not been
appreciably damaged by hurricanes.
The Mamey Sapote bears its
main crop in summer and early fall, although some fruit can be had
nearly year round. This fruit is usually large, from one to five pounds
and take about 12 months on the tree to mature. In outline, it can vary
from top-shaped to oval to nearly round. It has a brown, rough-textured
exterior like coarse sand paper would be if tiny pieces of cork were
substituted for the normal grit. The thick rind surrounds a reddish
pulp in which one to four large, hard, brown, smooth seeds are embedded.
south Florida's growing conditions, the. Mamey does fairly well on most
soils except for marl and requires no special fertilizers. On poor
rocky, alkaline soils it tends to suffer from zinc, iron and possibly
manganese deficiencies. In the grove, 1½ lbs. neutral zinc and
1½ lbs. manganese can be added to 100 gallons of water and
applied as a foliar spray. Geigy 138 iron chelate mixed with water and
applied as a ground drench under the tree has been found to give
favorable results in correcting this deficiency. A preventive spray
schedule is recommended, rather than waiting for the symptoms to
appear. The above applications can be applied in the fall before
dormancy and again in late spring after a flush of growth.
the Dade County area, the tree is subject to attack by Cuban May beetle
(Phyllophaga bruneri, Chapin) which eats the leaves and can be quite
destructive, especially to small trees.
The Mamey Sapote can be
propagated by seed, air-layer (marcot), side veneer graft and approach
graft. The 3" to 4" long seeds should be potted up as soon as possible
after removal from the fruit because after a few days' exposure to dry
air, they can lose their viability. Frequently, seeds commence their
germination while still in the fruit, and the sprouting roots tightly
surround a part of the hard, smooth shell. By planting the seed
vertically, pointed end down, the roots will be headed downward in the
right direction. If the top of the seed is about level with the soil
surface, the roots will have more room to grow downwards before
striking the bottom of the container and making a 90-degree bend.
people have difficulty in getting Mamey grafts to take. An alternative
would be to marcot the plant. This should be done using sphagnum moss
with a plastic wrap, preferably in the summer, but in any event, three
months or more prior to leaf drop. This occurs in Florida in the spring
when new foliage replaces the old. Air layers on the tree during this
leaf change period all die when mature existing leaves fall off and new
ones fail to develop. The best time for air-layering is in the late
spring or early summer after the new leaves have matured. Marcots put
on at this time frequently root by the end of the third month, while
those made in winter are seldom successful.
In grafting, a foot
or so of ½" to ¾" diameter scionwood should be girdled by
removing a ¾"-wide strip of bark one to several months prior to
removal, depending on the time of year, summer being best. All the
leaves should be removed from the girdled part of the branch except the
terminal three or four leaves. After the previously-ringed graftwood
has swollen to about one fourth again its original diameter, it can be
removed. If it is left on during the leaf change period in spring, it
will die. At this stage, the scion wood will be covered with buds, so
it can be cut up into 3" lengths and each piece, including the terminal
bud, used to make a side veneer graft. With this method, the writer
usually gets about four out of five grafts to take.
grafting, either by using a potted plant or a germinating seedling
suspended in sphagnum moss-filled plastic bags tied up among the
branches, has proven fairly successful.
In Florida, we have four
or more varieties that have been vegetatively propagated. The Rare
Fruit Council International Yearbook lists two that are probably the
largest-fruited. These are the 'Magana', a single-seeded introduction
from El Salvador with fruit that can run up to five pounds, and the
'Cuban No. 1', whose fruit also is unusually large, mostly
single-seeded and can reach 9" in length. Of these two, the 'Magana' is
preferred because of its tendency to bear at an earlier age. It has
been noticed that the 'Magana' can ripen fruit from bloom in less than
a year on the tree, while the 'Cuban No. 1' takes over a year.
describe the fruit of the various varieties would be like slicing
apples open and trying to describe the pulp. While the outside
configuration of the fruit varies from elliptic to oval to occasionally
round, the outside color of all Mamey Sapotes is the same. The flesh
differs only in color, from light yellow-orange to a dark red. It is
considered by the writer impossible to tell from outward appearance
when the Mamey Sapote, any variety, is ripe, for the brown-colored
exterior layer of the skin undergoes no color change upon ripening.
This means that the fruit must either be left to fall upon the ground
after ripening, or the surface of the skin on the underside of the
fruit must be scratched with the fingernail to reveal the color of the
flesh just beneath the surface. If it is green, it should be left on
the tree for further ripening. If it is light pink color, it may be
picked and brought into the house for further ripening. In a day or two
it will be soft and ready to eat.
How good does the rich fruit
taste? Some say it reminds them of ... sweet potato, but for the Cuban,
no other fruit that God created can compare with it.
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