The common name of Annona diversifolia is ilama blanca, meaning "old lady fruit." Popenoe considered the ilama blanca one of the finest of the Annonas. The cherimoya, although commonly regarded as the best fruit from this family, by contrast is more exacting in its environmental requirements. The cherimoya, unless crossed with A. reticulata, producing the custard apple for instance, is a relatively shy bearer. For these reasons there ought to be considerable interest in the ilama blanca.
Whereas the sugar apple (Annona squamosa) was known to botanists since the 17th century, the ilamas were described only 75 years ago. Two probable reasons for this may be the great similarity between the ilamas and the sugar apple and the confusion between the ilama blanca and the ilama soncoya, known to botanists as Annona purpurea.
The soncoya is easily differentiated from the blanca since its new branchlets have a reddish appearance. The fruit of the soncoya is not well-regarded and confusion between these two species has possibly been detrimental to the blanca's reputation.
The blanca's growth habit also leads to confusion with the sugar apple. One characteristic of the ilamas are orbicular bracts found at the bases of the swollen branchlets. However, similar bracts can be found on the sugar apple. The fruit of the ilama blanca is similar in appearance to that of both the cherimoya and the sugar apple. The fruit's flesh can be white or pink.
Crossings of the Annona species: testidinea, squamosa, diversifolia, purpurea, glabra, montana, scleroderma and many others, mostly native to Mexico, could be an interesting and worthwhile pursuit. There are over 50 known varieties and possible permutations for crossings are endless.
Seeds of the ilama blanca may have reached Australia. Has this species taken root on our continent?
DATE: July 1983
* * * * * * * * * * * * *