From Neglected crops: 1492 from a different perspective
by J.A. Morera (Genetic Resources Unit, CATIE/GTZ, Turrialba, Costa Rica)
Botanical name: Pouteria sapota (Jacq.) H. Moore & Steam Family: SapotaceaeFamily: Sapotaceae
English. sapote, mammee zapote, marmalade plum; Spanish: zapote, mamey
zapoteo, mamey colorado, zapota grande: French grosse sapote
The sapote (Pouteria sapota),
which originates from the lower parts of Central America, is a
fruit-tree with tree pollination, which generally multiplies by seed.
Its fruit may be eaten raw or green and the flesh is used to make jams,
icecreams and sauces; when cooked, it can be an acceptable substitute
for apple puree and may also be used in confectionery.
analysis shows that 100 g of sapote flesh contains 65.6 percent water,
1.7 g of protein. 0.4 g of fat, 31.1 g of carbohydrates, 2 g of fibre,
1.2 g of ash, 40 mg of calcium, 28 mg of phosphorus, 1 mg of iron, 115
mg of vitamin A, 0.01 mg of thiamine. 0.02 mg of riboflavin, 2 mg of
niacin and 22 mg of ascorbic acid.
Cultivation of this species
still cannot meet the demand of the external market and may play an
important role as a source of revenue and in helping to make up an
adequate diet, particularly for low-income urban and rural populations.
some parts of Mesoamerica, ground sapote seeds are used to give
chocolate a bitter flavour and characteristic aroma; in Costa Rica,
they have been used as a linen starch. In Guatemala and El Salvador,
the oil from the seed is used as a skin tonic, to prevent baldness, to
reduce muscular pain and to treat rheumatic ailments.
produces latex, which is used as a caustic to remove fungus from skin.
Sapote wood, which is strong and solid, can be used to make furniture
and other objects that require stout wood.
From the ecological
point of view, promoting the cultivation of this species is of enormous
importance since it can help maintain genetic diversity and prevent
some genotypes of potential value from disappearing. The establishment
of this species as a crop in traditional production systems will make
it possible to maintain highly sustainable fruit-growing development.
Agroindustrial development will benefit from the production of fruit of
great nutritional value and by-products of high value added.
sapote tree can attain a height of 20 to 25 m; its crown is generally
symmetrical or irregular, with thick branches and dense foliage. The
leaves are ovate or lanceolate and are concentrated on the apex of the
branches. The flowers are small, almost sessile, and grow in profusion
under new branches and along leafless branches. Each flower consists of
five true and five false stamens; the pistil has only one stigma and
the ovary has five carpers.
The fruit ranges in shape from
fusiform, elongated, ellipsoid to spherical, and may weigh up to 3 kg
in some genotypes. The skin is hard, rough and brittle, and is of a
dull, reddish colour. The flesh varies in texture and is red, orange or
greyish in colour; it is aromatic, sweet and soft when ripe; and
usually has some fibres, depending on the cultivar. In general, the
fruit contains one or more seeds. These are large with sharp ends and
ellipsoid in shape, dark brown in colour. smooth and shiny on the
dorsal segment and cinnamon-coloured on the ventral part. The seeds
take between 40 and 70 days to germinate, a process that can be speeded
up by simply removing or scarifying the husk before sowing.
Figure 9. Sapote (Pouteria sapota): details of a cross section and shapes of the fruit
Ecology and phytogeography
little has been written on the climatic conditions. pests, diseases and
other factors limiting the production and productivity of the sapote.
However, the most important factors from an ecological point of view
are height, soil, temperature and rainfall, since they can limit the
cultivation area, and to a great extent, may be considered the most
critical factors for its development. In some places, wind may be the
most important limiting factor. The ease with which some diseases and
insects can spread depends on relative humidity.
adapts well from sea level up to 1400 m. It grows in the heavy clays of
Puerto Rico, the sandy clays of Guatemala and even in the sandy soils
of Florida in the United States.
The essential characteristics
of the soil for optimum cultivation are the quality of drainage, depth.
degree of acidity, fertility, adequate groundwater level and moderate
permeability. In tropical areas, there are many soils with these
characteristics. However, soil factors are inseparably linked to the
sapote plant's photosynthetic potential, for which reason the low
fertility of some tropical soils limits the yield of this species.
sapote does not tolerate low temperatures, even if of short duration.
Depending on its locality, the sapote can be profitable if sown in
areas where the temperature does not fall below 1 5°C. Extreme
temperatures can temporarily affect some of the functions of any of the
tree's organs. In regions where the sapote grows best, the average
temperature ranges between 25 and 28°C. On some commercial
plantations, such as in Leon in Nicaragua, good yields and fruit
quality are obtained at temperatures between 30 and 33°C.
amount of rainfall needed for growing the sapote ranges between 800 and
2500 mm; how much rainfall there is will depend on the type of growing
If the dry season is prolonged in a given area, harvesting
may be concentrated in short periods while, in places where there is no
dry season, the crop can be harvested with maximum fruiting throughout
word "sapote" (or "zapote") comes from the Aztec "tzapotl", a
collective name which applies to several species of sweet, spherical
fruits with large seeds. The Sapotaceae family includes other close
species of great value, such as the sapodilla (Manilkara zapota), star apple or caimito (Chrysophyllum cainito), canistel (Pouteria campechiana), pan de vida (P. hypoglauca), lúcumo (P. obovata) and caimo (P. caimito).
In the most recent taxonomic classification, sapotes comprise three species: Pouteria sapota, P. viridis and P. fossicola,
although it is accepted that there are intermediate groups between the
three (Pennington, 1990). Despite morphological differences and
sometimes differences in geographical distribution, if compared with
other fruit-tree species, the value of these three taxa would be at
In Florida, several cultivars of the sapote are
currently grown, of which brief descriptions have been made (Campbell
and Lara, 1982). Table 4 indicates the 16 best cultivars.
Table 4 Characteristics of the best sapote cultivars in Florida, 1991
|Cultivar||Harvest||Weight (g)||Flesh colour||Flavour||Yield|
|Area No. 3||July-September||400–740||Pink||Good||Regular|
1 This cultivar has a second harvest between July and August.
of the genetic variability of the genus Pouteria is found in the
tropical forest areas which are still unexplored. These regions are not
very accessible and, in some cases, guerilla groups in the mountains
make it difficult to collect genotypes which may be undergoing genetic
erosion through abandonment. Furthermore, urban development is
accelerating the loss of genetic diversity of this and other species.
It is surprising to note how trees of great value are being felled
daily to make way for buildings and other constructions on the best
soils with a high agricultural potential.
The Indians, on the
other hand, leave sapote trees when clearing the forest and. in
Guatemala. they are frequently found on land which has long since been
given over to maize.
The protection of genetic resources,
including the Sapotaceae family, is an international responsibility.
The costs and benefits of this protection should be shared out
equitably. In general, many of the countries with a great genetic
diversity are developing countries, hence they are unable to defray the
costs of in situ protection of genetic resources on their own.
international mechanism is therefore needed to meet the costs this
responsibility entails. Such financial support should be used in
particular for taking care of populations of endemic species in each
ecological region and in zones of exceptional diversity, particularly
the lowland forests, tropical and subtropical rain forests as well as
isolated mountains and other places where wild species with a high
genetic value still exist.
The intensification of agriculture
has caused a reduction in the genetic variability of this tropical
species by replacing wild cultivars of sapote with other exotic species.
general, Sapotaceae have been propagated by seed. There are few
commercial plantations. Fruit for everyday consumption comes from
solitary trees which grow close to people's homes or are interspersed
with other perennial crops such as cocoa and coffee.
Until a few
years ago this species took seven to eight years to come into
production, since sexual propagation by seed was used. This created a
wide variation in populations, greatly reducing the possibility of
harvesting genotypes that were uniform in size, weight and quality.
present, the vegetative methods of propagating sapote involve grafting,
a system which improves productivity characteristics and halves the
period between sowing and harvesting. In this way, incompatibility
problems between stock and graft are corrected and the desirable
characteristics of grafting are combined with the special qualities of
Before grafting, there must be a good selection of
stocks. Grafting must be done at a time when the stock and scion are in
the appropriate physiological state to allow a greater percentage of
takes. The preferred grafting methods are side grafting and cleft
grafting. The optimum state for selecting vegetative material (scions)
is when the tree is dormant, i.e. when the plant sheds all its leaves;
this generally occurs during the summer. To select scions during the
winter, the shoots need to be ringed eight to ten days before grafting.
The stocks must be approximately 1 m high, 1.2 cm thick and nine months
old. It should be borne in mind that the cuts in both the stock and the
scion have to be made in the most uniform area of both barks so that
the join is complete. Once the operation is completed, the graft is
tied with special tape and a little melted paraffin wax is applied for
A week later, the apical part of the stock is cut,
leaving 30 cm between the shoot and the graft. This step is repeated
after two weeks when only the graft is left. At approximately two
months, the part of the plant which has joined to the stock begins to
bud. At four months. the tape is removed in order to let the new shoot
develop freely and, two months later, the plants can be planted out in
Present cultivation situation. Central America is
going through a difficult economic situation. and this is reflected in
the agro-industrial sector. An economic recovery is needed that
involves investments in non-traditional products. The sapote may be
quoted as an example of a nontraditional species which offers economic
potential for agricultural diversification in the region and hence for
achieving a better ecological balance. In Central America, South
America and the Antilles, interest in this crop is a recent
development. There are just a few small commercial plantations and
isolated trees on uncultivated land which may allow the crop to be
promoted both at a local level and for export.
In these regions,
there are no germplasm collections and few skilled technicians for
carrying out the technological transfer of cultivation. Furthermore,
Central America has climatic. topographical, soil and social
characteristics which could allow this genetic resource to be developed
and utilized more fully. In spite of its potential benefit for growers
and industry. there is still little information and research being done
on exploitation and use of the sapote.
A better knowledge of the
genetic diversity, seasonal variations in production, quality, supply
of and demand for this species would enable its monoculture, or
cultivation together with other perennial crops, to be encouraged.
Prospects for improvement
future of sapote cultivation is linked to the selection of the best
genotypes for each country. Selection criteria will have to be based on
the vigour, height and build of the trees, the production, shape and
size of the fruit, the quantity of flesh and fibre and the aroma and
flavour. The requirements of internal and external markets will need to
be studied and the selling prices of specific cultivars compared.
the sapote may be a slow process and will require research, time and
investment. Experience with other crops shows that, without adequate
marketing and sustained development strategies, growers may stand to
lose. Indeed, they do not usually know the quality standards which
apply to production, nor the methods for effective husbandry, and also
have to cope with high harvesting costs, low prices paid for the
product. small yields and a shrinking market. It should be stressed
that research, commercial production and marketing are the key factors
for successfully establishing non-traditional crops.
starting to develop a crop such as the sapote, an evaluation needs to
be made to demonstrate its prospects for adoption by growers.
Consideration will have to be given to the area of adaptation, the
availability of land, bank credit, production costs, market security
and probable net income for the grower; these factors will have to be
compared with those of other competitive crops. Information will also
have to be collected on the availability of outstanding genotypes'
stock and graft nursery capabilities and cultivation practices, as
applied to the seedling and in the field.
production and marketing is essential if a new product is to be
presented successfully. If the market is created before production
meets demand, buyers may show a lack of interest and the product may
lose its acceptability. If production exceeds demand, growers may be
disillusioned by the losses and, in some cases, may even change crops.
regard to the potential areas for a crop's introduction and
cultivation, priority should be given to sampling genetic diversity.
This stage can take at least two years, depending on the availability
of germplasm. For species that are widely dispersed or located in
geographically or politically inaccessible areas, collections may
continue indefinitely. Permanent collections need to be established
while finance must be made available for the preservation of those that
From the social point of view, it is worth
stepping up the propagation of this crop and making its nutritional
benefits available to low-income rural populations. From the economic
point of view, the export of the dried fruit or flesh would bring
enormous advantages to these groups, since it would constitute an
inflow of foreign exchange. Ecologically, this species could be
combined with other perennial crops such as cocoa and coffee, thereby
providing emergency income for the grower should the market price of
the main perennial species decrease or fluctuate constantly.TopSix stages may be envisaged in research and development:
exploration for, and collection of, germplasm;
observation and selection of cultivars for domestic consumption and export;
chemical studies and use;
evaluation and agronomic validation;
production and processing for local consumption and for export;
on evaluation and agronomic validation must be carried out in various
locations and environments and should include cultivation practices,
harvesting methods, yield and quality. A high genetic diversity must be
maintained so as to select the genotypes suitable for each environment.
carry out this programme, credit needs to be made available with
acceptable rates of interest and repayment terms, while there must also
be the political will to ensure implementation and technical support up
to the marketing stage.TopBibliography
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