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Morton, J. 1987. Sapote. p. 398–402. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.


Sapote

Pouteria sapota (Jacq.) H.E. Moore & Stearn

Pouteria mammosa (L.) Cronquist

Lucuma mammosa Gaertn.

Achradelpha mammosaCook




The word "sapote" is believed to have been derived from the Aztec "tzapotl", a general term applied to all soft, sweet fruits. It has long been utilized as a common name for Pouteria sapota (Jacq.) H.E. Moore & Stearn (syns. P. mammosa (L.) Cronquist, Lucuma mammosa Gaertn., Achradelpha mammosa Cook, Vitellaria mammosa Radlk., Calocarpum mammosum Pierre, C. sapota Merrill, Sideroxylon sapota Jacq.). Alternate vernacular names include sapota, zapote, zapote colorado, zapote mamey, lava-zapote, zapotillo, mamey sapote, mamee sapote, mamee zapote, mamey colorado, mamey rojo, mammee or mammee apple or red sapote. In El Salvador, it is known as zapote grande, in Colombia as zapote de carne; in Cuba, it is mamey, which tends to confuse it with Mammea americana L., a quite different fruit widely known by that name. The usual name in Panama is mamey de la tierra; in Haiti, sapotier jaune d'oeuf, or grand sapotillier; in Guadeloupe, sapote à creme; in Martinique, grosse sapote; in Jamaica, it is marmalade fruit or marmalade plum; in Nicaragua, it may be called guaicume; in Mexico, chachaas or chachalhaas or tezonzapote; in Malaya and the Philippines, chico-mamei, or chico-mamey.
The sapote belongs to the family Sapotaceae, the same family as the sapodilla (Manilkara zapota van Royen) which has also been called sapote, zapote, or zapote chico to distinguish it from the larger fruit.

Sapote
Plate LV: SAPOTE, Pouteria sapota
Description

The sapote tree is erect, frequently to 60 ft (18 m) sometimes to 100 or 130 ft (30 or 40 m) with short or tall trunk to 3 ft (1 m) thick, often narrowly buttressed, a narrow or spreading crown, and white, gummy latex. The evergreen or deciduous leaves, clustered at the branch tips, on petioles 3/4 to 2 in (2-5 cm) long, are obovate, 4 to 12 in (10-30 cm) long, and 1 1/2 to 4 in (4-10 cm) wide, pointed at both ends. The small, white, to pale-yellow 5-parted flowers emerge in clusters of 6 to 12 in the axils of fallen leaves along the branches. The fruit may be round, ovoid or elliptic, often bluntly pointed at the apex, varies from 3 to 9 in (7.5-22.8 cm) long, and ranges in weight from 1/2 lb to 5 lbs (227 g-2.3 kg). It has rough, dark-brown, firm, leathery, semi-woody skin or rind to 1/16 in (1.5 mm) thick, and salmon-pink to deep-red, soft flesh, sweet and pumpkin-like in flavor, enclosing 1 to 4 large, slick, spindle-shaped, pointed seeds, hard, glossy-brown, with a whitish, slightly rough hilum on the ventral side. The large kernel is oily, bitter, and has a strong bitter-almond odor.

Origin and Distribution

The sapote occurs naturally at low elevations from southern Mexico to northern Nicaragua. It is much cultivated and possibly also naturalized up to 2,000 ft (600 m) and occasionally found up to 5,000 ft (1,500 m) throughout Central America and tropical South America. It is abundant in Guatemala. In the West Indies, it is planted to a limited extent from Trinidad to Guadeloupe, and in Puerto Rico, Haiti and Jamaica, but mainly in Cuba where it is often grown in home gardens and along streets and for shading coffee because it loses its leaves at the period when coffee plants need sun, and the fruit is extremely popular. It is grown only occasionally in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. It was introduced into the Philippines by the early Spaniards but is grown only around Cavite and Laguna on Luzon and Cagayan on Mindanao. From the Philippines, it was carried to southern Vietnam where the fruit is eaten when very ripe.

The sapote has existed in Florida for at least a century. The prominent horticulturist, Pliny Reasoner, included it in his report in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pomological Bulletin in 1887. Subsequently, seeds were brought into the United States on various occasions. In 1914, the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction received seeds from the Costa Rican National Museum, San José (P.I. #39357). Mr. Ramon Arias-Feraud supplied seeds from Panama in 1918 (P.I. #46236). In July, 1919, seeds from Laguna, Philippines, were sent by the Bureau of Agriculture, Manila (P.I. #47516). More seeds from Costa Rica were presented by Mr. Carlos Werckle in October, 1919 (P.I. #47956). Seeds of a superior selection were obtained and planted at the Federal Experiment Station, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, in 1939.

Despite the favorable comments that accompanied these and other introductions, the sapote was represented by only a few scattered trees in southern Florida for a long time. One of the discouraging factors was the tree's slowness incoming into bearing. William J. Krome, a leading pioneer, planted a seedling on his property in Homestead in 1907 and it bore its first fruits in 1949, after having suffered repeated setbacks from freezes and hurricanes over the years, and it was then only 18 ft (5 1/2 m) high. Other trees in more protected locations had fared much better.

The arrival of many Cubans in Dade County during the past 2 decades has created an active demand for the fruits and for the trees for home planting, and some commercial orchards of 5 to 20 acres (2-8 1/3 ha) or more have been established. In 1983, one man with 15 trees in his backyard was selling the fruits to Cuban people and bringing in seedlings 5 ft (1 1/2 in) high from the Dominican Republic at $100 each. Such enthusiasm has spurred efforts to develop practical methods of vegetative propagation and one expert propagator is now selling grafted trees at $10.50 each, wholesale. In the fall of 1984, a nursery had acquired a stock of 1,000 of these trees and one customer bought them all. Thus has the status of the sapote risen dramatically in southern Florida because of an ethnic change in the population.

Varieties

There is much seedling variation in the sapote. Superior selections have been made in Cuba, Central America and in Florida in recent years. The following named cultivars are being cultivated domestically or commercially, or merely being tested in Florida:

'AREC No. 3'–Seed received from Isle of Pines, Cuba, 1940. Seedling grown at AREC, Homestead. Grafted trees planted later. Fruit medium to large, 14 to 26 oz (400-740 g). Flesh pink; of poor to good quality; contains 3-4 seeds. Ripens July-Sept. Tree of medium size, a fair bearer; probably useful source of seeds for rootstocks.

'Cayo Hueso'–A selection from the Dominican Republic; favored by Cubans.

'Chenox'–Obtained by Lawrence Zill from Belize. Grafted trees being tested at AREC, Homestead, and elsewhere.

'Copan' ('AREC No. 1')–Seed received from Cuba in 1938. Seedling set out in field at AREC, Homestead, 1940. Grafted trees planted out in 1975; later propagated by nurseries. Fruit of medium size; 15-32 oz (425-900 g). Flesh red, of excellent quality; contains 1 seed. Fruit ripens in July-Aug. Tree is of spreading habit and medium in size. Leaves turn red in Dec., then become brown and are shed in spring.

'Cuban No. 1'–Believed to have originated in Cuba but introduced from El Salvador. Fruit large; 9 in (22.8 cm) long; weighs 2.2 lbs (1 kg).

'Flores'–A Guatemalan selection introduced by Tom Economou of Miami and being tested at AREC, Homestead.

'Francisco Fernandez'–A Cuban selection named for the Miami man who introduced it into Florida.

'Magana'–Introduced from El Salvador in 1961. Seedling set in field at AREC, Homestead, in 1952. Grafted trees planted in 1975. Later propagated by nurseries. Fruit large to very large; 26 to 85 oz (740-2,400 g). Flesh pink, of good to excellent quality; contains 1 seed. Fruit matures in less than 12 mos (Apr.-May). Tree is small, slow-growing; may fruit 1 yr. after planting. Bears poorly in Puerto Rico; very well in Florida. Evergreen.

'Mayapan' ('AREC No. 2')–Seed sent from Isle of Pines, Cuba, in 1940. Fruit a little above medium size; 18 to 40 oz (510-1,135 g). Skin very scurfy. Flesh red, of good quality though slightly fibrous; contains 1 seed. Tree is erect and tall. Grafted trees slow to fruit but produce well after the lapse of a few years.

'Pantin'(or 'Key West')–In 1956, Pantin family in Miami provided budwood from a seedling tree in Key West. Fruit of medium size; 14 to 40 oz (400-1,130 g). Flesh pink to red, of excellent quality, fiberless; contains 1 seed. Tree is tall. Grafted trees grow slowly at first, bear little or no fruit for 2-3 years, then growth rate increases and yield is good. Leaves become brown in winter. Grafted trees sold by nurseries.

'Progreso'–Obtained by Lawrence Zill from Belize. Grafted trees being tested at AREC, Homestead, and elsewhere.

'Tazumal'–AREC, Homestead, received seedling tree from El Salvador in 1949. Grafted and planted several trees in 1975. Fruit is of medium size, 14 to 30 oz (400-850 g). Flesh pink, of good quality; contains 1-2 seeds. First crop ripens Jan.-Feb.; second crop, July-Aug. Tree is of medium size, fast-growing, bears regularly and heavily. Grafted trees sold by nurseries. Usually evergreen.

In western Puerto Rico, there are some high-yielding trees producing large fruits 2.2 lbs (1 kg) or more in weight having dark-red flesh.

Climate

The sapote tree is limited to tropical or near-tropical climates. In Central America, it flourishes from sea-level up to 2,000 ft (610 m); it is less common at 3,000 ft (914 m); and rare at 4,000 ft (1,220 m). Occasional trees have survived at 5,000 ft (1,500 m) but these grow slowly and fruit maturity is considerably delayed. Young specimens are highly cold-sensitive and the large leaves of the tree are subject to damage by cold winds. The sapote has been found too tender for California. It thrives in regions of moderate rainfall–about 70 in (178 cm) annually–and is intolerant of prolonged drought. Even a short dry spell may induce shedding of leaves.

Soil

The tree makes its best growth on the heavy soils–deep clay and clay loam–of Guatemala but it does well on a wide range of soil types, even infertile, porous sand. It was originally believed unsuited to the oolitic limestone soils of southern Florida. However, with adequate planting holes, it has proved to be long-lived and fruitful in Dade County. The tree will not thrive where there is poor drainage, a high water table, or impermeable subsoil restricting root development.

Propagation

Sapote seeds lose viability quickly and must be planted soon after removal from the fruit. They normally germinate in 2 to 4 weeks. Removal of the hard outer coat will speed germination. The seeds must be planted with the more pointed end upward and protruding 1/2 in (1.25 cm) above the soil in order to assure good form in the seedling. Rodents are attracted to the seeds and cause considerable losses in Cuba. Seedlings should be grown only in experimental plantings intended for selection of desirable characters, or for use as rootstocks. Normally seedlings will not bear until they are 8 to 10 years old and they do not necessarily come true from seed. In Cuba, seeds are taken only from esteemed trees that are isolated from those of low quality in order to avoid any detrimental influence through cross-pollination. For fruit production, the sapote is best propagated vegetatively and it will then produce fruit in 1 to 4 years, depending on the cultivar. Air-layering is seldom successful. Cuttings treated with indolebutyric acid fail to root. Various methods of grafting have been tried. Approach-grafting has been commonly practiced in Cuba and is a reliable but somewhat cumbersome technique. Chip-budding has given good results at times. Side-veneer grafting is considered most feasible in Mexico and Florida. It has been achieved with 80 to 98% success utilizing 1-yr-old defoliated trees in the February-May dry season, but still presents difficulties. Ing. Filiberto Lazo, a horticulturist of long experience in Cuba, has provided detailed instructions for tip-grafting which he proved to be practical. The seedlings for use as rootstocks are first grown in 1-quart (.94 liter) containers and, when the first tender leaves appear, are transplanted into gallon (3.8 liter) containers and kept in semi-shade until the leaves are full-grown and dark-green. At this stage they are given more sun and are fertilized and watered faithfully. Within a year the stem will be 3/4 in (2 cm) thick and ready for grafting. An important point is to select budwood (scion) that is not as thick as the rootstock. The scion may be prepared by one of two methods: a) select from a tree that you wish to propagate a branch that has flowered; cut off the tip just below the leaves. About 10 to 12 days later the lateral buds of the beheaded branch begin to swell and this is the time to clip off the scion, 8 in (20 cm) in length, wrap it in a damp cloth, and proceed to graft as soon as possible; or b) clip off the terminal 8 in (20 cm) or more of a branch that has flowered, then immediately cut off the apex with the leaves, wrap the decapitated scion in a damp cloth and keep in the nursery until you see the lateral buds of the scion begin to swell; then proceed to graft.

The first cut in the rootstock should be a transverse one with pruning shears, leaving the stem about 1 ft (30 cm) high. Because of the copious latex, one must wait for it to drain out before going ahead. When the flow stops, take the scion (prepared either way), clip off 2 in (5 cm) or more from the base, leaving the scion about 6 in (15 cm) long. Using the budding knife, make a diagonal cut from 2 1/2 in (6.25 cm) below the tip downward, the slant terminating at the side opposite the side where it was begun. A reverse cut of the same length is made in the tip of the rootstock so that the base of the scion and the tip of the rootstock will fit together perfectly and the bark will match up. The scion must then be tightly bound to the rootstock with polyethylene ribbon, leaving no air-space, and covering all of the scion up to 2 1/2 in (6.25 cm) above the rootstock. A rubber band is put around over the polyethylene to make sure the wrapping is completely secure. When the scion has developed mature leaves, this is a sign that the graft has taken. The plastic is removed from the scion except for the part covering the graft which is left on until the scion has developed a quantity of leaves and displays distinct vigor. The grafted plant is ready to set out in the field one year later. Inferior cultivars, or grafted trees that have been frozen back, can be topworked by veneer-grafting mature or "juvenile-like" scions onto interstocks (seedling tops prepared for the purpose).

Spacing

Planting distances may vary with the fertility of the soil and the form and growth habit of the cultivar. On rich soil, sapote trees of spreading habit should be no less than 30 ft (9 m) apart each way. Lazo preferred a spacing of 40 ft (12 m) on an equilateral triangle. Where the soil is less fertile and the cultivar is fairly compact, the distance may be reduced to 25 ft (7.5 m).

Culture

Sapote trees do not require elaborate care, but should be given the advantage of adequate holes, pre-enriched, and routine fertilizer applications, at first high in nitrogen to stimulate vegetative growth. When nearing fruiting age, the tree will benefit from applications of a balanced fertilizer in spring and fall, the amount increasing each year. In dry seasons, frequent watering is desirable until the tree is well established. Grafted trees grow more slowly than seedlings and do not grow as tall, which is a distinct advantage in harvesting.

Harvesting and Yield

it is not easy to determine when the sapote is sufficiently mature to harvest. Some say the fruits are picked when they show a reddish tinge. Actually, in Cuba, 10 or 12 fruits from each tree are sampled by removing a small part of the rind and judging the color of the flesh. If it has achieved maximum color for that particular cultivar, the entire crop is deemed ready to pick. Fruits are not harvested from trees in active vegetative growth (a state called "primavera"), because they will never ripen completely. Harvesting of large trees requires a picking pole with a cutter and a basket to catch the fruits; or workers must use ladders and twist the fruit until the stem breaks. Trees that become too tall may be topped so that the crop will be within reach. After picking, the stem is close-clipped and the fruits are packed in boxes or baskets to avoid injury. There are no available figures on productivity but it is said in Cuba that trees on fertile soil will live for at least 100 years and bear abundantly throughout their lives.

Keeping Quality

A fully mature sapote will ripen in a few days. If shipped right after picking, the fruits can be sent to distant markets. In the past, they were exported from Mexico and Cuba to the United States.

Pests and Diseases

Sapote leaves and roots are attacked by the West Indian sugar cane root borer, Diaprepes abbreviatus, in Puerto Rico. The red spider mite, Tetranychus bimaculatus, may infest the leaves.

The fungus, Colletotrichum gloeosporioides, causes anthracnose on the leaves and fruit stalks in rainy seasons and causes fruits to fall prematurely. Leafspot resulting from attack by the fungus Phyllosticta sapotae occurs in Cuba and the Bahamas but seldom in Puerto Rico. In addition, black leaf spot (Phyllachora sp.) and root rot (Pythium sp.) may occur in Florida.

Food Uses

The sapote is credited with sustaining Cortez and his army in their historic march from Mexico City to Honduras. The fruit is of such importance to the Indians of Central America and Mexico that they usually leave this tree standing when clearing land for coffee plantations or other purposes. They generally eat the fruit out-of-hand or spooned from the half-shell. In urban areas, the pulp is made into jam or frozen as sherbet. In Cuba, fibrous types are set aside for processing.

A prominent dairy in Miami has for many years imported sapote pulp from Central America to prepare and distribute commercially as "Spanish sherbet". In Cuba, a thick preserve called "crema de mamey colorado "is very popular. The pulp is sometimes employed as a filler in making guava cheese.

The decorticated seeds, called zapoyotas, sapuyules, or sapuyulos, strung on sticks or cords, are marketed in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico, and in Central America. The kernel is boiled, roasted and mixed with cacao in making chocolate–some say to improve the flavor, others say to increase the bulk, in which case it is actually an adulterant. In Costa Rica, it is finely ground and made into a special confection. Around Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, the ground-up kernel is mixed with parched corn, or cornmeal, sugar and cinnamon and prepared as a nutritious beverage called "pozol".

Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*

Calories 114.5
Moisture 55.3-73.1 g
Protein 0.188-1.97 g
Fat 0.09-0.25 g
Carbohydrates 1.41-29.7 g
Fiber 1.21-3.20 g
Ash 0.89-1.32 g
Calcium 28.2-121.0 mg
Phosphorus 22.9-33.1 mg
Iron 0.52-2.62 mg
Carotene 0.045-0.665 mg
Thiamine 0.002-0.025 mg
Riboflavin 0.006-0.046 mg
Niacin 1.574-2.580 mg
Ascorbic Acid 8.8-40.0 mg
Amino Acids:
Tryptophan 19 mg
Methionine 12 mg
Lysine 90 mg

*Analyses made in Cuba and Central America.

Toxicity

De la Maza, in 1893, reported that the seed has stupefying properties, and this may be due to its HCN content. One is cautioned not to rub the eyes after handling the green fruit because of the sap exuding from the cut or broken stalk. The milky sap of the tree is highly irritant to the eyes and caustic and vesicant on the skin. The leaves are reportedly poisonous.

Other Uses

Seeds: Early in the 19th Century, the seeds were used in Costa Rica to iron starched fine linen. The seed kernel yields 45 to 60% of a white, semi-solid, vaseline-like oil which is edible when freshly extracted and refined. It is sometimes used in soap and considered to have a greater potential in the soap industry, in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. It was used in olden times to fix the colors on painted gourds and other articles of handicraft. The seeds have served as a source of Noyeau scent in perfumery. The nectar of the flowers is gathered by honeybees.

Trees: The trees are seldom cut for timber, unless they bear poor quality fruit. There is very little sapwood. The heartwood is buff or brown when fresh, becoming reddish with age; sometimes resembles mahogany but is redder and more or less mottled with darker tones. It is fine-grained, compact, generally hard and fairly heavy, strong, easy to work and fairly durable. It is rated as suitable for cabinetwork and is made into furniture, but mostly serves for building carts, and for shelving and house frames.

Medicinal Uses: In Santo Domingo, the seed kernel oil is used as a skin ointment and as a hair dressing believed to stop falling hair. In Mexico, 2 or 3 pulverized kernels are combined with 10 oz (300 g) castor oil for application to the hair. In 1970, clinical tests at the University of California at Los Angeles failed to reveal any hair-growth promoting activity but confirmed that the oil of sapote seed is effective in stopping hair-fall caused by seborrheic dermatitis. The oil is employed as a sedative in eye and ear ailments. The seed residue after oil extraction is applied as a poultice on painful skin afflictions.

A seed infusion is used as an eyewash in Cuba. In Mexico, the pulverized seed coat is reported to be a remedy for coronary trouble and, taken with wine, is said to be helpful against kidney stones and rheumatism. The Aztecs employed it against epilepsy. The seed kernel is regarded as a digestive; the oil is said to be diuretic. The bark is bitter and astringent and contains lucumin, a cyanogenic glycoside. A decoction of the bark is taken as a pectoral. In Costa Rica a "tea" of the bark and leaves is administered in arteriosclerosis and hypertension. The milky sap is emetic and anthelmintic and has been used to remove warts and fungal growths on the skin.


Related Species

The green sapote, Pouteria viridis Cronq., (syns. Calocarpum viride Pitt.; Achradelpha viridis O.F. Cook), is called injerto, injerto verde or raxtul in Guatemala; zapote injerto in Costa Rica; white faisan or red faisan in Belize. The tree is erect, to 40 or even 80 ft (12-24 m) in height, its young branches densely brown-hairy. It possesses an abundance of white, gummy latex. The leaves are clustered at the tips of flowering branches and irregularly alternate along non-fruiting limbs. They are oblanceolate, pointed, 4 to 10 in (10-25 cm) long, 2 to 2 3/4 in (5-7 cm) wide; hairy on the upper midrib and downy-white beneath. Flowers, borne in groups of 2 to 5 in the leaf axils and massed along leafless branches, are tubular, 5-lobed, pinkish or ivory and silky-hairy. The fruit varies from nearly round to ovoid, pointed at the apex and sometimes at the base; may be 3 1/2 to 5 in (9-12.5 cm) long and 2 1/2 to 3 in (6.25-7.5 cm) thick, with thin, olive-green or yellow-green skin dotted with red-brown and clinging tightly to the flesh. The flesh is light-russet, of fine texture, melting, fairly juicy and sweet; of better flavor than the sapote. There may be 1 or 2 dark-brown, shiny, elliptic or ovate seeds to 2 in (5 cm) long, with a large, dull, grayish hilum on one surface. The fruit is picked while hard and held until soft. The flesh is generally eaten raw, spooned from the skin, but a preserve is made from it in Guatemala.

The tree is native and common in the wild in Guatemala and Honduras; rarer in Costa Rica and southward to Panama; at elevations between 3,000 and 7,000 ft (900-2,100 in). The fruits are commonly marketed.

In 1916, 50 seeds from fruits on the market in Guatemala were introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture (S.P.I. #43788). Experimental plantings were made in California and Florida. More seeds were sent by Dr. Wilson Popenoe from the Lancetilla Experimental Garden at Tela, Honduras, in 1929 (S.P.I. #80383). Other introductions followed. There were no survivors in California or Florida in 1940. Trees 8 to 10 ft (2.4-3 m) high at the Agricultural Research and Education Center, Homestead, Florida, were killed by a flood in 1948. A private experimenter, William Whitman, obtained budwood from Honduras in 1954 and grafted it onto sapote rootstock. Other such grafts were made by a commercial fruit grower and the first fruits were borne in 1961. Subsequently, grafted trees were offered for sale by the Brooks-Tower Nursery and various seedlings have been distributed to private growers. The tree seems to flourish with little care on rich hammock soil but needs regular fertilizing on limestone. The Cuban May beetle feeds on the leaves. Seedlings begin to bear when 8 to 10 years old. The crop ripens in fall and winter.

Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*
Moisture 68.1-69.5 g
Protein 0.152-0.283 g
Fat 0.24-0.28 g
Fiber 1.2-1.6 g
Ash 0.69-1.38 g
Calcium 18.6-35.7 mg
Phosphorus 22.1-23.6 mg
Iron 0.57-0.74 mg
Carotene 0.031-0.069 mg
Thiamine 0.009-0.011 mg
Riboflavin 0.027 mg
Niacin 1.88-1.189 mg
Ascorbic Acid 49.9-62.3 mg

*Analyses made in Guatemala.

The latex (chicle) has been commercially collected and marketed like that from the sapodilla for use in chewing gum. The wood is reddish, fine-grained, compact, strong, durable; occasionally used in construction, carpentry, turnery, and for furniture and paneling in Guatemala.