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Sugar-apple is grown in lowland tropical climates worldwide, including in southern Mexico, the Antilles, and Central and South America, tropical Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Polynesia, and, in the U.S., in Hawaii and Florida. It was introduced to India and the Philippines by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century, and has been cultivated there ever since. Its native range is not known due to extensive cultivation and naturalization, but is thought to have originated in the West Indies, and was first described from Jamaica (Ecocrop 2011, Flora of North America 2011, Wikipedia 2011). It is naturalized north to southern Florida in the United States and south to Bahia in Brazil, and in many parts of Asia, and is considered invasive in French Polynesia and several Pacific islands (PIER 2011).
Sugar-apple is a cold-intolerant, semi-evergreen shrub or small tree reaching 8 meters (26 ft), one of the smaller members of its genus. Trees may flower and bear fruit starting at 2–3 years of age. Fruit production can be prolific with adequate precipitation (>70 cm or 27 inches per year), but in non-native ranges is often limited by absence of native pollinators, which include various beetle species; flowers are too deep to be readily pollinated by honeybees (Apis mellifera). Hand pollination is used to increase yields (Wikipedia 2011).
The compound fruits are round to oblong, 6–10 cm (2.4–3.9 in) diameter, with a thick, scaly or knobby skin that gives them a pine-cone appearance. Fruits weigh 100–230 g (3.5–8.1 oz). The fruit flesh is fragrant, sweet, white to light yellow, with the texture and flavor of custard; the flavor is considered the best among fruits in the genus. Fruits are divided into 20–38 segments, each generally containing a hard, shiny brownish-black, seed, enmeshed in the flesh, although some trees produce seedless fruit (Morton 1987, Popenoe 1920). The fruits are generally eaten fresh, or used to make juice beverages or sorbet, and are a good source of iron, calcium, and phosphorus (Morton 1987).
The seeds are toxic, and have been used as an insecticide and to treat head lice (although the preparation is an eye-irritant and can cause blindness). Seeds are, however, high in oil, which can be used in soap manufacture or, if treated to remove the toxic alkaloids, as a cooking oil. Leaves, unripe fruits, and extracts of bark and root, all rather astringent, have been used in traditional medicine to treat fevers, rheumatism, diarrhea, dysentery, and other ailments. The aromatic leaves are occasionally used in perfumes, and fibers from the bark are used to make cords and ropes (Morton 1987).