The Annona family contains a number of delicious tropical fruits that are very popular and can be grown well here in southern Florida. An exception to that group is the cherimoya, which prefers higher elevations and performs very poorly in lowland conditions. However, the sugar apple, which is another excellent member of the family, has been grown here for many years and is highly prized. Hybrids made between the sugar apple (Annona squamosa) and cherimoya (A. cherimola) are called atemoya and are well adapted to warm, sea level conditions. The atemoya have excellent quality, almost as good as cherimoya.
Trees are relatively small, 25-30 feet in height with about an equal spread. They are deciduous from mid-December to the mid-part of March. The fruit are generally heart-shaped, 3 to 5 inches in diameter with a very lumpy skin, individual segments being easily distinguished. At maturity the fruit is a yellowish-green in color, and when broken open, a white custard-like flesh is exposed with small, dark seeds. The flesh has a sweet, delicious flavor.
The main season for atemoyas is from late summer into the late fall; however, some late blooming might enable people to have fruit even as late as Christmas. Trees prefer well-drained fertile soils and they will grow over a wide range of pH - they are one of the few trees that tolerate alkaline soils and do quite well. Trees should be irrigated about once a week or more often during dry conditions. During the dormant winter season, however, little irrigation is needed. Atemoya trees should be fertilized about once every 2 to 3 months when small, with a fruit tree-type fertilizer. Once they reach bearing age, fertilize about every 3 to 4 months with a citrus or fruit tree-type fertilizer.
There are many varieties of atemoyas available, particularly in southern Florida and among the most popular are the Geffner, African Pride (also called Kaller), Bradley, Stermer, Page and several others. Other atemoyas are grafted to get better production and also to ensure a longer tree life. On their own roots, atemoyas sometimes do not live as long as they should. Although there are many rootstocks that are currently being used for atemoyas, most people prefer atemoyas to be grafted on seedling atemoyas since there have been problems on some of the other rootstocks in recent years.
The trees generally are very well adapted for container culture, too, so people who are limited in space can grow these in containers and still get enough fruit to make it worthwhile. The leaves generally are 4 to 8 inches long, lanceolate or elliptic in shape. The tree has a very light green color and is a very attractive ornamental specimen for the landscape. There are few problems of major consequence, although caterpillars might occasionally chew foliage, and in extreme southern Florida the chalcid fly, which gets into the fruit and attacks the seeds, can be a serious problem.
If you have not tried atemoyas, they are available in some of the specialty markets at this time of the year and at meetings of the Rare Fruit Council, they are often brought in for tasting. Trees are available at local nurseries that specialize in tropical fruits, and of course, at RFC fruit tree sales.
DATE: March 1994
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