Despite the fact that approximately 50% of the estimated 150 Annona species are native from Brazil1,2, these local species are scarcely known and consumed in our South American homeland. On the other hand, the sugar apple and the soursop are grown widely here and their popular appeal makes people consider them wrongly as native fruits.
However the true native species do not share this popularity. Most of them are ranked low due to problems that includes fibres, grittiness, poor taste, strong smell, too many seeds and small size. Among them, the Annona crassiflora, a large fruit from central Brazil with a good distinct flavour and a nice orange pulp colour, is considered to be the best one.
The fruits from this genus where named aratikú, (which means "heaven's fruit") by the Tupi-Guarani Indians. Nowadays, the names araticum and aticum are adopted in most Brazilian regions to designate them, including in some places the well-known exotic ones.
At the end of '94, when visiting Har Mahdeem with Bill Whitman, I was asked by Har about an Annona fruit that he mentioned in one of his articles in the "Tropical Fruit World" Annona issue3. This species, the Annona salzmannii Alphonso de Candolle, was considered by some old references (Hoehne4 and Fouqué5) a very tasty fruit with a sweet fibreless pulp. My interest increased after finding out that this highly desirable fruit was originally from the northeast of Brazil, where I live.
Soon I started to ask myself why such a good fruit was not mentioned in any recent publication. My initial speculation was the destruction of its native environment during this century, caused mainly by the intensive sugar cane farming and the intense increase in population in this area.
Since then I've been looking for any information about this fruit. My main objective was to find a bearing tree and this was achieved after three expeditions to a small forest 250 km north of the city where I live. There, I found one more reason for the endangered condition of this species. Most fruits were completely destroyed by the Annona fruit borers before ripening. This insect, introduced here due to the planting of large commercial sugar apple and soursop orchards, spread profusely in the forest due to the absence of any natural enemy. I was able to obtain a ripe fruit only after bagging some small fruitlets.
The adopted local common names are araticum-apeh and, my favourite one, beach araticum, named after its main area of occurrence.
The beach araticum, originally described as a tree of small to medium height (Safford6, Correa7, de Paula8,9), is in fact one of the tallest trees of the genus. This might be explained by the fact that the observed trees were found in a rain forest and the ones described by the mentioned references were located on sandy arid soils.
The observed trees reached a height of between 12 and 15 meters, but Morawetz10 found in a rain forest, trees as high as 22 meters. The trunk diameter is about 40 cm growing straight until 8-11 meters without any side branches. The canopy is 5-6 meters wide. Another particular aspect compared with most Annona species is the smooth light grey bark. The white wood is very light9 (density = 0.4). Young branches are glabrous and covered by many small light brown lenticels. Inside the cells of the root bark there is droplets of an aromatic oil with an agreeable strong perfume9.
The young buds are nicely covered by a brown velvety tomentum and the new growth changes during its development from light brown to glossy green. Petioles are 0,7-0,9 cm long and 0,2-0,3 cm wide and are grooved above. The leaves are probably the most remarkable characteristic of this species. They are alternated, thick, coriaceous, elliptic-obovate with an acute basis and a rounded or retuse, sometimes acute or even emarginated apex. Their size, 9-12 cm in length and 5-7 cm of width, matches the descriptions of Hoehne4, Safford6 and Correa7 but the leaves from one-year-old seedlings, planted in a rich soil and grown in a 60% shade house are bigger (16 x 10 cm). They are wider between their middle section and their extremity. Surface colour is different than the ones reported by Safford6 because his observations were made on dry specimens. The upper surface is glabrous, glossy and dark green and the margin is revoluted down as in Annona scleroderma. The lower surface is glabrous and pale green. As a main aspect, the midrib, lateral nerves (8 to 12) and secondary veins on the upper surface are impressed. On the lower surface the midrib is salient but the lateral nerves and veins are slightly impressed too.
The 2 cm wide calyx has three rounded concave lobes. Flower buds, solitary or in pairs, are ovoid to subpyramidal and acutish at the apex. Its beautiful flowers bear a close resemblance to those of the Guanabani group (soursop, mountain soursop, soncoya ... ). They are arranged in two series of three thick, ovate, acute petals. The outer ones are valvate, 2,5 to 4,0 cm long and 2,0 to 3,2 cm broad and yellow on both surfaces. Their exterior is intensely covered by a fine and shiny brown tomentum that gives to the flowers a gorgeous bronze-silky appearance.
The internal face base was deep purple stained, making a nice contrast with the yellow background. The inner petals are valvate too, 2,2 to 2,5 cm long and 1,2 to 1,8 cm broad and covered by a fine velvety tomentum on both surfaces. The outside is yellow and the inside is bright pink changing into purple close to the base. The numerous cream-coloured stamens are 0,4 cm long.
The fruit is almost unknown. Safford6 and Correa7 didn't observe it but Hoehne4 and Fouqué5 ranked it as a very tasty fruit. Young fruitlets are green and they are clothed in soft prickles 0,5 cm long that get smaller, sometimes almost imperceptible, when mature.
Fruits are globose and heart-shaped. The ones I've collected were 10 cm x 10 cm large weighing as much as 500 grams. Fruits cultivated in better conditions can reach as much as 20 cm as reported by Hoehne4 and Fouque5. The rough skin, 0,5 cm thick, isn't hard enough to prevent the attack of borers. As it ripens, the colour changes from light green to yellow and dark yellow. Inside it there is a thin, grainy, almost tasteless layer close to the rind. The edible part is light cream colour and, in the riper segments, almost translucent. It is soft, fibreless, grainless and agreeably sweet, reminding me of apples with a sapodilla touch.
Seeds were bigger and more numerous in the larger fruits. The larger fruit had about 75 to 80 of them. They were hard, shiny and dark brown, ornate with longitudinal black stripes. Most of them were enveloped in a thin easily-slipped-off membrane. Their size was about 2,2 to 2,4 cm long, 1,0 to 1,4 cm wide and 0,7 to 0,8 cm thick, weighing 1,0 to 1,2 grams.
The fruit weight distribution is:
|Membranes, grainy pulp ...||=||5%|
Origin and Climatic Requirements
The beach araticum is native to sandy areas of the Brazilian northeast coast. Despite its scarce occurrence, there are identified trees2 from Porto Seguro, the state of Bahia (16,4° S) to Igarassú, the state of Pernambuco (7,8° S). The fact that the observed trees were situated 20 km far from the coast on a sandy-clay soil and close to an old farm might indicate that they were cultivated.
The main characteristic of this area is the stable temperature where the annual temperature ranges between 18° and 33° C and the annual rainfall ranges between 130 and 170 cm with more than 80% of it concentrated from February to July.
Propagation and Culture
So far my preference has been to propagate the beach araticum by seed. Despite their sandy native soil, I prefer to plant them in good, well-drained soil. Most seeds start to sprout a pink stem in five weeks but some of them can take as much as three months to emerge. The success rate has been about 80%.
The growth of seedlings, under 60% of shade, is very slow at the beginning. They seem to stand some drought but they present, when overwatered, some susceptibility to root rot. During the first year, they grow just 25 to 30 cm. This was the same height of the seedlings that I brought from the forest last year. Now, after one year and half, they are 50 to 100 cm tall. Leaves of cultivated plants tend to be bigger than the ones observed in the forest. Even presenting a long taproot and poor lateral root development, one-year-old seedlings have been easily transplanted. They are showing good adaptation to full sun.
Unlike most Annona species, the beach araticum isn't deciduous during the winter.
Flowering and Fruiting
The trees I've observed were probably older than fifty years and they were grown without any care. However, my estimations of more than 100 flowers per tree, indicate that with appropriate conditions and pest control this species might be a heavier bearer than the soursop.
These trees, located 8° S, flowered from September to December. The fruit ripens between January and March. Fruit harvesting can be a problem in old trees due to their height. Grafted trees and pruning can be a good option to prevent this.
Pests and Diseases
The main pest occurring in the observed trees was the Annona fruit borer (Cerconota anonella). The larvae of this white moth damaged almost 100% of the non-bagged fruits. One of the less-attacked fruits had fourteen holes in its skin. Its pulp and about half of the seeds were completely destroyed by the insect. These non-developed fruits were about 3 to 6 cm in diameter and inside them there were both the larvae and the moth.
It was observed that a small ant, probably attracted by the sweetness of the fruit, was associated with the fruit borer attack, using the holes in the skin to reach the pulp and eat it. There were some mummified fruits around the trees, which consisted of just hollow shells. In a few cases the peduncle had been attacked by white scales. Despite the severity of the fruit borer attack, the other parts of the plants looked healthy.
In my opinion, the high quality of its pulp flavour and texture in addition to the beautiful aspect of its foliage and flower indicate that the beach araticum could be spread as a garden tree. The sweetness of the pulp, good flavour and softness could be good characteristics to be reproduced in hybridization. It must be considered that, except for the soursop, most fruits from the Guanabani group lack these properties.
Safford6, wrote in his revision of the genus Annona: "It is strange that this quite distinct and valid species is absent from more recent collections of plants from its native region". Today, more than 80 years later, this situation is probably worse. Even considering that I obtained no more than sixty viable seeds, I started to share them with some fruit enthusiasts from all around the world, starting a process that I hope will bring this valuable fruit back from the brink of extinction.
1 - Rainer, Heimo. " Personal Homepage". http://s1.botanik.univie.ac.at/pershome/rainer/hrlist.htm
2 - Rainer, Heimo. "Annona". http://s1.botanik.univie.ac.at/pershome/rainer/annona.htm
3 - Mahdeem, Har. Tropical Fruit News "Other Annonaceous Fruit".
4 - Hoehne, F.C. "Frutos Indigenas".
5 - Fouqué, A. "Espèces Fruitières D'Amérique Tropicale".
6 - Safford, W. E. "Classification of the Genus Annona".
7 - Correa, Manoel Pio. "Dicionário das Plantas Úteis do Brasil".
8 - de Paula, José Elias. "Madeiras Nativas".
9 - de Paula, José Elias. "Anatomia Comparada das Espécies de Annona glabra L. e A. salzmannii DC". (Annonaceae) Ocorrentes do Nordeste Brasileiro".
10 - Morawetz, W. E. "Karyologie, Ökologie und Evolution der Gattung Annona (Annonaceae) in Pernambuco, Bresilien".
DATE: August 1999
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