SCIENTIFIC NAME: Annona scleroderma
FAMILY: Annonaceae

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.

Cawésh 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).

The 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.

Of 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.

I 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.

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.

Neither 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 Honduras.

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."

...Inventory 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."

I 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 not!

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.

In 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.

It 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 feet.

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 our efforts.

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 cawésh).

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 year.

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.

From Fasho's 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.

A kilometer or two from there, in and near the new town of Palmarcito, we saw several more trees, all past their season or juvenile.

Also 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 for sale.

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).

Several 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 (mealybugs? Scale?).

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)

At 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).

In 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.

The 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 denser tree.

(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.

(4) 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.

(13) Wilson Popenoe, Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits (New York: Hafner Press, of MacMillan Publishing Co., 1920) pp. 193-4.

(14) 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.

(15) 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.

(17) 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)
Jorge 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).

(19) Frank B. Smithe and H. Weyne Trimm, Las Aves de Tikal trans. Graciela de la Cerda (Guatemala: Litografía Zadik, 1986), p.284.

(20) 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.

Har Mahdeem,
Zill High Performance Plants Florida

DATE: May 1990

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