One of South Florida's most pleasant-eating fruits is the star apple borne by a Sapotaceous tree indigenous to Tropical America. The fruiting season frequently commences in mid-winter and extends into spring. The three-inch-plus diameter fruit normally come in two variations, one having a purple skin upon ripening, and the other, a pale green. However, a third type with copper-colored fruit has been observed in Haiti. Prolific bearing trees heavily laden with these apple-size fruit give the appearance of Christmas ball ornaments hanging down from the branches by the hundreds.
The fruit of the star apple has a mild, sweet flavor usually enjoyed by the novice to tropical fruits on the first encounter. The gelatinous, semi-translucent, soft white pulp contains from two to five hard, brown, glossy seeds ¾" long. Upon cutting the fruit in half along its equator, these seeds as well as segment markings in the pulp, are arranged in a formation that radiates out from the center and suggests a star, hence its name.
Chrysophyllum cainito makes a highly ornamental, medium to large size tree. Its two-tone leaves are three to five inches long, oval to oblong, a deep glossy green on top and a beautiful velvet golden-brown underneath. Young trees, which are tender to cold should be protected from frost, while bearing-size trees appear to withstand freezes of short duration with only superficial damage. The star apple grows well on a wide range of soils, from the coral and lime rock of the Florida Keys to the hammock sands of the inner coastal regions.
Vegetative propagation by air-layering and grafting from superior fruiting trees is recommended, as trees grown from seed can fail to fruit, or produce light crops of inferior quality. Vegetatively-propagated trees can be expected to bear in the fourth or fifth year after being planted out.
The small, inconspicuous, whitish flowers have been observed to be attacked by a sod webworm type of larva, while fungus infections can cause the fruit to mummify. Damage by birds pecking holes in the fruit is common. During a cold winter, a reduction in the size and number of leaves usually results in small, inferior quality fruit. This relative of the sapodilla is referred to in English colonies as 'star apple', in French colonies as 'caimite' and in Spanish-speaking countries as 'caimito'. The most widely-distributed variety in South Florida is the 'Haitian', which can commence to bear upon attaining five feet.
A tree frequently mistaken for the star apple is the satin leaf (Chrysophyllum olivaeforme), a native to South Florida hammocks. The two can usually be distinguished apart by the smaller leaf of the satin leaf, as well as its olive-size, barely edible, black-colored fruit, and the comparatively diminutive size of its mature tree.
DATE: March 1980
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