During each of my first three summer trips to south western
Guatemala near Mexico, I looked at one or two trees of cawésh
and wondered what the fruits might be like. (1). The first week of
March, 1989, my boss sent me back to find out. I did.
are delicious - refreshing, lively pineapple-banana flavor; very
smooth, creamy flesh, easily spooned out from the hard skin and
effortlessly slipping off the shiny seeds.
These probably used
to be forest trees but now shade coffee plantings or grow in dooryards,
growing up to about 80 feet tall and thirty feet wide, heavily
branched, the first branches starting 8-12 feet from the ground, and
the trunks getting to be up to 1½ feet thick. Most of the
foliage is on the outer one or two yards-worth of the branches; the
mostly bare inner part of the treetop is where the flowers and heavy
crops of fruits form directly from the sturdy, middle-aged branches,
much as mamey sapotes do.
What appears to be the native habitat
is the upper hills between the range of volcanoes and the Pacific
lowlands (growing at 3,400 feet elevation, at one place of known
altitude), where natural forests are, as far as I could see,
non-existent: many of the tall trees still standing were presumably
once part of a natural forest, but in their shade now grows coffee,
cardamon, or cacao, and mostly poor quality Inga species have been
interplanted as further sources of light shade. There are a few
cawésh trees planted at 1,000 feet elevation (i.e. the lower
hills, where the ilama, Annona diversifolia is grown).
mature leaves are long, stiff, thick, and waxy-shiny on top, and
ever-so-slightly rusty underneath, this rustiness easily visible only
on the midrib when the leaves are mature; the small, closed new growth
is felty-rusty, but quickly turns a shiny light-green-yellow when it
opens and expands. (The foliage looks like a mix-up of the leaves of
mountain sop, bullock's heart, and caimito) (2). The petioles are
brittle; strong winds defoliate exposed cawésh trees.
Cawésh seedlings are said to begin fruiting in three or four
years, the trees being a good 15 - 20 feet tall by then and growing
straight up. The size and shape of cawésh trees require
considerable climbing agility of one who would harvest the fruit, as
well as requiring a medium-long-handled picker, a bag and long rope or
a tough-handed catcher on the ground, and, preferably, a ladder to
reach the lowest branch.
This condition of poor accessibility to
humans, in combination with the clinging tenacity of the fruits (ripe
fruits usually don't fall) and with the fruits' positioning on firm,
nearly horizontal branches in the open, shady interior of the canopy,
and with the refreshing flavor of the fruits, to attract raucous
marauders, such as woodpeckers, magpie-jays, orioles, and grackles.
First, standing on the branch while pecking a two inch hole in the hard
skin of the fruit and then eating the closest portion, they then hop to
the lower edge of the hole, and, firmly gripping that sturdy threshold,
lean further and further into the cawésh until there's nothing
left inside but a sticky pile of seeds. Though these gaping remnants of
fruits sometimes fall fresh, they tend to spend a few days or weeks up
there drying really hard before clatter-bouncing to the ground.
Common Names Confusion
the small portion of the populace familiar with the cawésh in
southwestern Guatemala, most of the speakers of Español called
it 'chirimuya', which name we can't use here without causing confusion
because 'cherimoya' is a common name which gets around altogether too
much, in several slight variations of pronunciation, applied to several
very different species.(3)
'Cawésh' is the name used by
speakers of Cachiquél (a different spelling for the same
pronunciation is 'cahuex'); a family of Español speakers in the
town of Genova says 'cawésha'. As with most other common names
for Annonas, the name 'cawésh' gets around too much as well: according to Flora of Guatemala (4), the name 'cahuex' is applied to Annona reticulata
by speakers of Quiché; and here in Florida I met a couple of
speakers of Canjobál, hailing from the village of San Miguel
Acatán, Department of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, who also applied
the name 'cawésh' to A. reticulata, as well as to other Annonas, apparently including A. cherimola. (5).
If this cawésh of southwestern Guatemala that I'm describing is what is botanically classified as Annona scleroderma, then it is also commonly referred to as 'annona del monte' (not A. montana now!) and 'posh-te', also spelt 'poxte'; (6) but in Salvador 'anona poshte' means A. cherimola, (7) and among various Mayan tribes 'Pox' ('posh') refers to A. reticulata, A. purpurea, and A. cherimola.(8) You get the picture.
prefer the name 'cawésh', both because it is easy for us English
speakers to say and because we're unlikely to confuse this name with
any other fruits we know.
Botanical Classification Confusion
Two botanists of this century, famous for their work in classification of Annonas, first Safford, (9) and later, Fries, (10) classified two supposedly similar fruits as separate species: Annona scleroderma and Annona testudinea, but the authors of Flora of Guatemala say that these are just one species.
species is mentioned in 'flora books' as occurring in southwestern
Guatemala: all the places named are on the other side of the
continental divide, from southern Mexico through all of the central and
northern lowlands of Guatemala to Belize and the Lancetilla area of
Flora of Guatemala says A. scleroderma "leaves and fruit have the odor characteristic of A. muricata" (soursop) (11 ). Flora of Lancetilla Valley says crushed A. testudinea leaves smell like those of A. muricata. (12). The cawésh trees and fruit I've sampled bear no A. muricata odor, in fact very little smell comes from the leaves, which smell similar to guava leaves.
Flora of Guatemala says fruits of A. scleroderma are reddish-green outside. Flora of Lancetilla Valley says A. testudinea
fruits are "grayish or bluish green, becoming purplish at maturity."
Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits says a fully ripened A. testudinea "takes on a brownish color," while A. scleroderma are a "dull green". (13) Perennial Edible Fruits of the Tropics: An Inventory, in the 'Major Fruits' chapter, says A. scleroderma
fruits are "green". (14). The ripe cawésh I saw were green, or
green with black or brownish splotches. One informant near the town of
Cuyotenango said his ripe cawésh were "cafe negro" (blackish
brown). An informant in Genova and another in San Sebastion insisted
that they had seen yellow-skinned varieties; none of the other
informants asked had seen or heard of any colors of cawésh other
than green or splotched.
Flora of Guatemala says A. scleroderma
is a "tree 25 meters high or less, the trunk to 30 cm in diameter"
(i.e. 77 feet high and 1-foot thick trunk). Flora of Lancetilla Valley
says A. testudineais a "tree 6-9 meters tall" (i.e. 20- 30 feet tall). ...Inventory says A. scleroderma
is a "small tree". The bearing cawésh trees I saw were mostly
20-50 feet tall with 1-foot diameter trunks; a few were maybe as tall
as 70 to 80 feet tall with 1½-foot thick trunks.
Flora of Guatemala says A. scleroderma flowers are "greenish-yellow...petals...ferugineous-sericeous outside." Manual... says A. scleroderma
has "small, cinnamon-brown flowers." The few cawésh flowers I
saw were greenish-yellow, without noticeable rusty hairs, looking much
like flowers of A. squamosa or A. cherimola or A. reticulata, but growing directly out of older wood and having a ridge lengthwise down the outside of each petal.
Safford's natural-size illustration of an A. scleroderma
fruit shows a rind 1/4 - 3/8 inch thick, and he says that the shell is
hard; furthermore, that the name of the Chelonocarpus section of the Annona genus "is suggested by the resemblance of the shell of the fruit to tortoise shell." (The Chelonocarpic Annonas include A. scleroderma Safford, A. testudinea Safford, and A. pittieri Donnell Smith. ) (15) Manual... says A. scleroderma "shell is nearly ¼ inch thick." Flora of Guatemala says
A. scleroderma "rind becomes hard and shell-like." Flora of Lancetilla Valley says A. testudinea
"shell is thick and hard." The cawésh skins I saw were more like
1/8 of an inch thick; they were very tough but readily gave to touch
when ripe, becoming hard and shell-like only after the pulp had been
eaten out and the skin had dried.
Flora of Guatemala says A. scleroderma
fruits are globose or depressed-globose, 8-10cm in diameter (i.e. 3-4
inches). ...Inventory says 8cm. Manual. . .says 3 inches. I saw
cawésh 2- 4 inches diameter.
Safford said that the Chelonocarpic Annonas
have watery, aromatic, mango-flavored pulp and that the "seeds are
comparatively large, compressed, and smoothly polished." Flora of
Guatemala says of A. scleroderma, "The fruit has an agreeable flavor, but the seeds are very large, 2cm long". Manual ... says A. scleroderma's
"seeds, which are imbedded in the white melting pulp, are about the
size of those of the cherimoya"; Popenoe goes on to quote O.F. Cook:
"The texture of the pulp is perfect, the flavor aromatic and delicious
with no unpleasant aftertaste. It is much richer than the soursop, with
a suggestion of the flavor of the matasano (Casimiroa edulis) ... The most fragrant pulp is close to the rind. The seeds separate from the surrounding pulp more readily than in most annona fruits."
says "Pulp eaten fresh, in desserts. Flavor sweet, aromatic, low
appeal. Potential limited to native areas." Manual... says A. testudinea "has soft, juicy pulp similar to that of the cherimoya but not quite so highly-flavoured," Flora of Lancetilla Valley says A. testudinea pulp is "sweet and watery and edible."
wouldn't describe the pulp of cawésh as "watery": "melting,"
yes; nor would I compare its flavor to matasanos' flavor, nor would I
say that its appeal is low, or limited to its native area - certainly
A fine mousse, ready in a bowl, it is. Its banana-pineapple flavor is similar to that of Monstera deliciosa,
but better, juicier, and without any unpleasant after-effects; also the
peel doesn't emit nauseating odors, as the skins of many other Annonas do.
the Guatemalan department of San Marcos, east of the road from Pajapita
to Tumbador, beside the house of the administrator of an immense coffee
plantation called Nahuatancillo, grows a fine cawésh tree
standing alone, about 40 or 50 feet tall. It was loaded with ripening
fruits when I arrived there looking for Administrador Straube's
brother, Enrique Straube (the ag engineer who had, as recommended by
Dr. Jorge León of Costa Rica, shown me around southwestern
Guatemala in 1985, and who had pointed out the first cawésh tree
I ever saw)(1). An employee was sent up the tree to get some fruits for
me, the first that I, or my taxi-driver friend, Pepe, (16) had seen.
When I smelt and tasted them I was amazed: Why were they rare? Pepe
enthusiastically got some for his family; the next day they asked him
to get more.
Among the individual fruits of this 'Straube' variety
of cawésh were many that were deformed (presumably caused by
incomplete pollination), and some that were marred by dark splotches on
the skin, but among these fruits was the handsomest individual fruit
that we were to find that week. On the green skin each areole was
marked by a small bump which was semi-enclosed by a raised ridge on the
opposite side of the bump from the stem end of the fruit. The pulp was
completely cling-free from the seeds. Elevation some two or three
thousand feet. I was told by employees that years back the area had had
lots of cawésh trees - since cut down, but that a nearby 'finca'
still had some.
Sure enough, at Alameda plantation I saw about a
dozen large-trunked cawésh trees here and there down the side of
a steep hill; their upper tops had been lopped off to reduce the shade
over the coffee, but the heavily-suckered, formerly lower branches had
some fruits on them. One was, at quite some inconvenience, picked for
me. Its areoles were marked by prominent bumps, no ridges. Its pulp was
lightly fibrous, slightly clinging to the seeds, and less tasty than
any of the other cawésh I was to try that week. Another of the
trees there had a branch full of flowers. (Apparently the main
flowering season of cawésh is around June or earlier. Two of the
three mature trees that I've seen in early August had small fruits set
and no flowers that I could see; the other had neither that I could
see.) My informant at Alameda said that a few cawésh fruits
could be found there year round. Apparently this is not generally the
case at the other locations I visited.
In the city of Colomba,
Quezaltenango Department, we found one tree, about 15 feet tall, sickly
(probably due to its being in a yard that was bare, packed dirt), with
several still immature fruits and lots of flowers. The areoles were
marked with circular raised ridges around a depression with a central
bump, reminiscent of certain lunar craters. Elevation, about 3,400 feet.
was in Colomba in 1985, that I saw a very large cawésh tree,
with no noticeable flowers or fruit sets in early August. Under the
tree was a dried skin with prominent, regular, closely-adjoining
spherical bumps, no ridges. Tree felled 1986.
At the southern edge
of the city of Genova, Department of Quezaltenango, on the land of
Justiana Gonzalez, I was shown two trees, one of them juvenile. The
harvest season of the bearing tree had ended about a month previously.
Its fruits were described as very rich in flavor and having completely
smooth skin with colored lines marking the areoles. Elevation, 1,000
The city of San Sebastián, Department of
Retalhuleu, was rumored to have quite a few cawésh trees, but
considerable walking and asking around turned up only two, on opposite
sides of town, both whose harvest was completed about a month
previously. Elevation, about 1,000 feet. In a small government nursery
there, dedicated to growing bagged seedlings of forest trees, a worker
showed me a handful of cawésh seeds that he'd brought in his
pocket, intending to plant them there. We congratulated each other on
He told me to go several kilometers north within
the municipality of San Sebastián, past Quatro Caminos to the
village of San Luiz, on higher terrain. There I spoke with a young man,
Adamar Arcelán Martinez Gomez, behind whose parents' house are
two adjoining, healthy cawésh trees about five years old, 25-30
feet tall. They still had quite a few fruits up them, though the
harvest had started in early January; he said the harvest would end in
mid-March. The 'Arcelán I' and 'Arcelán II', apparently
indistinguishable, were clean, regular in size with an uncluttered skin
pattern, the areoles being marked by flat surfaces surrounded by
distinct ridges. (This seems to be the standard skin design for the
Two or three kilometers back into the boonies we
came as directed from San Luiz, to the juice stand of Consuelo Galindo,
near which we were shown a four-year-old tree that had just finished
its second bearing season. Several other local cawésh trees were
mentioned here and there, all of which were finished fruiting for that
In the Cantón of Escuipula, in the northeastern
part of the municipality of San Sebastián, we saw two juvenile
cawésh trees, and one mature one whose season was past, and, at
Manuel Juaraz' s house, one young mature tree (growing in considerable
shade under much larger trees of other species), whose small crop had
not begun to ripen. Standard peel.
In the Department of Retalhuleu,
in the municipality of San Felipe, in the Cantón of Los Angeles,
in a wooded valley planted to coffee, at the house of Bonifacio "Fasho"
Chay Salanic, was a good-sized tree, mostly defoliated by a severe
windstorm, that had quite a few ripening fruits, despite most of its
crop having been harvested the previous month. No deformed fruits;
standard peel design; uniform size. Pepe liked this 'Fasho' variety
best; I ranked it second to the 'Straube' in flavor, and probably I
would not be able to distinguish 'Fasho' in either flavor or
appearance, from either of the 'Arcelan' varieties.
place we went across the stream and about 100 feet to the top of the
hill on the property of the Pos family, most of whose dozen or so
scraggly cawésh trees had been completely defoliated by the
windstorm; also the trees by paths had been much hacked at by
thoughtless persons walking by with machetes. Only one, smaller tree,
had any fruit left.
Standard peel; inferior pulp - not surprisingly, from a mostly defoliated tree on a dry hill.
kilometer or two from there, in and near the new town of Palmarcito, we
saw several more trees, all past their season or juvenile.
somewhere in this area saw a healthy juvenile cawésh tree, about
two years old, growing in full sun beside a house in an otherwise
treeless yard; (As I recall, all the other juvenile cawésh trees
I saw were growing in partial or deep shade); the tree was well above
the house already, even though it was growing in a swept, probably
packed, dirt yard. The owner was planning to plant a bunch of
cawésh trees to shade a new coffee field and to produce fruits
Just three or four kilometers east of Cantón
Los Angeles, into the Department of Suchitapequez, beside the town of
San Andrés Billa Seca, we saw two juvenile trees, and at the
house of Miguel Abaraham de Paz, a large cawésh tree crowded by
a mango and other species, had lots of good, ripening fruits, though
most of the crop had been picked in February. Standard peel, with lots
of dark blemishes.
In the adjoining Cantón San Jose we
saw several trees whose harvest seasons were past, and several juvenile
trees too; also we saw the tree of Felipe Cua Perez, which still had
several fruits left. This 'Cua' variety is a little tarter than the
others, and the peel is a little harder and smooth, with only brown
lines marking the areoles.
During the whole trip we ate fruits
from only cawésh trees. If I had gone down during the first or
second weeks of February we would have tried more, though, obviously
cawésh trees are not the least bit common in south-western
Guatemala and probably not anywhere else either.(17).
Diseases and Pests
people told me that each used to have a large productive tree which
dried up, for unknown reasons. A man who owned a juvenile cawésh
tree mentioned an insect infestation on the outside of fruits
Another fellow didn't have a cawésh
tree because, he said, they weren't worth having because cawésh
fruits got bored into badly by insects. At Cantón San Jose two
women told me that they used to have a cawésh tree that had been
cut down after seed borers and ants had made the fruits worthless. They
said that the young, green cawésh fruits (and soursop even more
so) were bitten by small yellow flies that lay their eggs, which hatch
out and eat the seeds and then worm out through the pulp. Suspecting
they were describing A. reticulata
(occasional trees of which I did see in neighboring localities, their
fruits full of annona seed borers), I showed them pictures of bullocks
hearts, but they said they were not confusing 'anona' with
cawésh. They also claimed that large black ants burrow into a
branch and on down through the fruits' stems and eat out the pulp. One
other person claimed that ants molested cawésh trees, but the
several other persons who mentioned ants in these trees, said that the
ants didn't seem to do any damage.
Everyone who had fruiting
cawésh trees told me that they had never seen insect damage on
either the fruits or the trees; all cawésh trees and fruits that
I saw did seem insect free. The major bird pests of the fruits are
four: the 'urraca', 'clarinero and sanate' )male and female of one
species), the 'chiltote', and 'cheje'.
The urraca, Calocitta formosa or C. colliei,
known in English as magpie-jay, looks like a huge blue jay with an
extra long tail (total 25-28 inches), with a plume like a California
quail's but reversed. It is showy and loud. ( 18)
The common pair, clarinero and sanate, Cassidix mexicanus, (19) (perhaps synonymous with Quiscalus mexicanus - 'Great-tailed Grackle' or with Q. major - 'Boat-tailed Grackle'.) (20)
The chiltote, probably Icterus chrysater, is a bright yellow oriole. (21)
The cheje, probably Centurus aurifrons dubius,
is a woodpecker, similar to the 'red-bellied'). One man told me that
there'd been a big cawésh tree on his property until he'd cut it
down, for the reason that, as the neighbors' brats were stealing most
of the fruits, it was taking up lots of space for nothing. I gather
that humans are the principal pest of the cawésh.
Unlike the seeds of many other Annona
species, fresh cawésh seeds germinate readily - 90% in one month
- without any pre-planting treatment. I hear that dry ones can take six
months to germinate.(23)
As with the cawésh grafts we
attempted after each of my previous three trips to Guatemala, none of
the grafts after this trip lived.
Alan Carle says that in Australia he's gotten A. scleroderma to graft easily onto both A. muricata and Rollinia mucosa.(24)
the Brillantes agricultural research station in the Department of
Retalhuleu, I was told by the nursery foreman that cawésh plants
had worked as rootstocks for "anona" (i.e. A. reticulata).
the 1989 Christmas freeze, temperatures here at Zill High Performance
Plants only got down to 28-30°F. Of several dozen cawésh
seedlings iced by overhead irrigation in a shade house, those 1/8 of an
inch in diameter and larger survived defoliated, while the tiny
seedlings bit the ice.
At the Fruit and Spice Park (near
Homestead, Florida) the temperature dipped several degrees lower,
perhaps to 24°F. A seven-foot tall seedling of scleroderma-or-testudinea-or-whatever
(grown from one of the seeds Chris Rollins found under a forest tree
near Tela, Honduras) planted out in the grounds of the park where there
is no irrigation or other freeze protection, was killed.
eating-quality of the cawésh indicates it could be a marketing
success, and the skins' toughness points to success in shipping.
Whether or not south Florida weather will allow a winter-harvested or spring-harvested Annona
crop to be a commercially-viable endeavor here, remains to be seen.
Perhaps with windbreaks, freeze protection, and bird-shooing or
netting, grafted cawésh trees, kept pruned low for harvesting
ease, could make it as a crop.
I believe it will be important as a parent of hybrids, and that it will probably also be useful as a rootstock.
For dooryard plantings I have high hopes for the cawésh, for inside this plain wrapping is delight
(1) Har Mahdeem "Reaching for Perfection: Future Focus on Annonas",
section 'Searching for the cawésh', Tropical Fruit News. Volume
23 (February 1989) pp. 15-16.(2) At a distance it can also be
confounded with another local fruit tree, the 'sunsa', which is a
(3) The name 'cherimoya' properly applies to the Annona cherimola,
native to Bolivia and Ecuador, where the name 'cherimoya' is thought to
have originated as well; however, Español speakers in the
Mexican state of Yucatan call the 'M1', and similar fruits 'cherimoya',
while Mexicans in other areas use the same name for A. squamosa, A. longiflora, A. globiflora, and even for a mulberry relative; Cubanos call A. reticulata
'cherimoya'. See Maximino Martinez, Catalogo de Nombres Vulgares y
Cientificos de Plantas Mexicanas, (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura
Economica, 1979, reissued 1987), pp. 299-300, and 1047.
Paul C. Standley and Julian A. Steyermark, Fieldiana: Botanica, Volume
24, Part IV, Flora of Guatemala (Chicago Natural History Museum, 11
April 1946), p.278.
(5) When shown my photos of foliage
of cawésh, they called it 'ojalito', which they described as a
medicinal tree with tiny fruits (Antidesma?).
(6) Standley and Steyermark, p. 279. (7) Ibid., p.274.
(8) Ibid., pp. 279 and 274.
(9) W.E. Safford, Classification of the Genus Annona, contributions from the National Herbarium (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 19), pp.16- 18.
(10) According to mention by Standley and Steyermark, p.279.
(11) Ibid., p. 280.
(12) Field Museum of Natural History, Volume X, Flora of Lancetilla Valley, p. 196 or 197 or 198.
Wilson Popenoe, Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits (New York:
Hafner Press, of MacMillan Publishing Co., 1920) pp. 193-4.
Franklin W. Martin, Carl W. Campbell, and Ruth M. Ruberté,
Perennial Edible Fruits of the Tropics: An Inventory, U.S.D.A.
Agricultural Research Service, Ag Handbook No.642 (Washington, D.C.:
U.S. Government Printing Office, April 1987), p.17.
In southwestern Costa Rica, Annona pittieri Donnell Smith is found
around 3,500 feet elevation growing about 25 feet tall; with glabrous
leaves 3-7 inches long by 1-2 inches wide; with narrow, three-petalled
flowers about 1¼ inches long; fruit somewhat conic in form, 4-5
inches long, with a thick rind, the areoles of the surface separated by
elevated lines. From Botany Volume XVIII, Flora of Costa Rica (Chicago
?: Museum of Natural History, c.p. 441.
Paul H. Allen, The Rain Forests of Golfo Dulce (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1956) , p.125.
(16) Juan José "Pepe" Escobar Obregón, TAXI # 39, city of Coatepeque, market taxi parking.
Mention of this fruit, if any, is also rare in recent tropical fruit
literature. For example, there are no mentions of any of the
Chelonocarpic Annonas in either Julia F. Morton, Fruits of Warm Climates (Greensboro, N.C.: Media Incorporated, 1987)
León, Botánica de los Cultivos Tropicales (San
José, Costa Rico: Instituto Interamericanode Cooperación
Para la Agricultura, 1987) even though Mr. León did extensive
collecting in this same area.
(18) Roger Tory Peterson, Field Guide, Mexican Birds (Norwalk, Connecticut: Easton Press, 1984).
Frank B. Smithe and H. Weyne Trimm, Las Aves de Tikal trans. Graciela
de la Cerda (Guatemala: Litografía Zadik, 1986), p.284.
Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central
North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1980), pp. 254-5.
(21) Smithe and Trimm, pp.360, 296-7, 288-9.
(22) Ibid., pp. 360, 133-4, 180.
(23) Personal communication from Maurice Kong, 13 February 1990, at RFCI Meeting Miami.
(24) Personal communication from Alan Carle, 8th July 1989, at Gene Joiner's ice cream festival.
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