From the book
Fruits of Warm Climates
by Julia F. Morton
Pouteria sapota (Jacq.) H.E. Moore & Stearn
P. mammosa (L.) Cronquist
Lucuma mammosa Gaertn.
Achradelpha mammosa Cook
Harvesting and Yield
Pests and Diseases
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.).
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,
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.
Plate LV: SAPOTE, Pouteria sapota
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
('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.
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.
('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.
'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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*
|Ascorbic Acid||8.8-40.0 mg|
*Analyses made in Cuba and Central America.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.