Fruit Facts from
California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
© Copyright 1996, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
Manilkara zapota L.
Sapodilla, Chico, Chico sapote, Zapote chico, Zapotillo, Chicle,
Sapodilla plum, Naseberry.
Star Apple (Chrysophyllum
cainito), Abiu (Pouteria
Lucmo (P. lucuma),
Sapote (P. sapota),
The sapodilla is believed to be native to Yucatan and possibly other
nearby parts of southern Mexico, as well as northern Belize and
northeastern Guatemala. It was introduced long ago throughout tropical
America and the West Indies and the southern part of the Florida
Sapodillas are not strictly tropical and mature trees can withstand
temperatures of 26° to 28° F for several hours. Young trees are
more tender and can be killed by 30° F. The sapodilla seems equally
at home in humid and relatively dry environments. Although it will grow
in the milder parts of southern California, whether it will fruit
regularly remains to be seen. A tree in La Mesa, Calif. has borne
fruit. Cool California nights seem to be a limiting factor. The
slow-growing sapodilla makes a satisfactory container or greenhouse
The sapodilla is an attractive upright, slow-growing, long-lived
evergreen tree. Distinctly pyramidal when young, with age the tree may
develops a crown that is dense and rounded or sometimes open and
somewhat irregular in shape. It is strong and wind-resistant and rich
in a white, gummy latex. In the tropics it can grow to 100 feet, but
grafted cultivars are substantially shorter. A 40-year old tree in La
Mesa, California is only about 12 feet tall.
The leaves are highly ornamental, 3 to 4-1/2 inches long and 1 to 1-1/2
inches wide. They are medium green, glossy, alternate and spirally
clustered at the tip of forked twigs.
Sapodilla flowers are small, inconspicuous and bell-like, approximately
3/8 inch in diameter. They are borne on slender stalks in the axil of
the leaves. There are several flushes of flowers throughout the year.
The fruit is round to egg-shape, 2 - 4 inches in diameter. The skin is
brown and scruffy when ripe. The flesh varies from yellow to shades of
brown and sometimes reddish-brown, and may be smooth or of a granular
texture. The flavor is sweet and pleasant, ranging from a pear flavor
to crunchy brown sugar. Fruits can be seedless, but usually have from 3
to 12 hard, black, shiny, flattened seeds about 3/4 inch long in the
center of the fruit.
sapodilla prefers a sunny, warm, preferably frost free location. They
are highly wind tolerant and can take salt spray.
Sapodillas are well adapted to many types of soil. It thrives in very
poor soils but flourishes also in deep, loose, organic soil, as well as
light clay, sand or lateritic gravel. Good drainage is essential, the
tree doing poorly in low, wet locations. It is highly drought resistant
and approaches the date palm in its tolerance of soil salinity.
The tree tolerates dry conditions remarkably well. Most mature
sapodilla trees receive no watering, but irrigation in dry season will
Newly planted trees need small and frequent feedings to become
established. Fertilizers that contain 6-8% nitrogen, 2-4% available
phosphoric acid and 6-8% potash give satisfactory results. First year
applications should be made every two to three months beginning with
1/4 pound and gradually increasing to one pound. Thereafter, two to
three applications per year are sufficient, in amounts proportionate to
the increasing size of the tree.
require very little pruning.
Although mature sapodilla trees will take several degrees of frost, it
is prudent to provide them with overhead protection if possible and
plant them on the south side of a wall or building. Plants can also be
covered with sheeting and such when significant frost is likely.
The sapodilla is most commonly propagated by seed, which remain viable
for many years if kept dry. Easily germinated, they take five to eight
years to bear. Since seed may not come true, vegetative propagation is
desirable. Veneer grafting with seedlings as rootstock is the best
method . Air layering and rooting of cuttings have not been successful.
In general the sapodilla tree remains quite healthy with little or no
care. Insects and diseases usually don't cause sufficient damage to
necessitate control measures, although the Wooly White Fly can
sometimes be a problem. Oil sprays in winter are suggested.
It is often difficult to tell when a sapodilla is ready to pick. If the
skin is brown and the fruit separates from the stem easily without
leaking of the latex, it is fully mature but must be kept at room
temperature for few days to soften. It is best to wash off the sandy
scruff before putting the fruit aside to ripen. It should be eaten when
firm-soft, not mushy. Firm-ripe sapodillas may be kept for several days
in good condition in the home refrigerator. At 35° F they can be
kept for 6 weeks. Fully ripe fruits frozen at 32° F keep perfectly
for a month. The fruit is mainly consumed fresh.
Chicle, the latex obtained from the bark of the tree has been used as a
chewing gum base for many years.
extensive cultivation in India has resulted in numerous cultivars in
that country. Quite a few cultivars are under test in Florida. A few of
the better known ones are listed below.
in Homestead FL. Introduced in 1948. Fruit medium small, 2 to 2-1/2
inches long, nearly round. Skin light, scruffy brown. Flesh pale brown,
fragrant, juicy, very sweet and rich, texture slightly granular.
Quality very good. Tree tall, bushy.
in Homestead, FL. Introduced in 1951. Round-conical fruit, 2-1/2 to
3-1/2 inches long and broad. Skin scruffy, brown, becoming nearly
smooth at maturity. Flesh light pinkish-tan, mildly fragrant, texture
smooth, flavor sweet, quality good. Tree bears early, consistently and
in Islamorade, FL. Introduced in 1935. Large, roundish fruit, 3 to 5
inches in diameter and length. Skin scruffy brown with gray patches.
Flesh pinkish-tan, shading to greenish-tan under the skin, mildly
fragrant, texture somewhat granular. Flavor rich and sweet. Tree slower
to bear and less productive than Prolific.
A new seedling selection with excellent flavor. Elliptic
light brown in color, smaller than Prolific. Ripens very early.
Morton, Julia F. Fruits of Warm Climates.
Creative Resources Systems, Inc. 1987. pp. 393-398.
Maxwell, Lewis S. and Betty M. Maxwell. Florida
Fruit. Lewis S. Maxwell, Publisher. 1984. p. 64.
Popenoe, Wilson. Manual of Tropical and
Subtropical Fruits. Hafner Press. 1974. Facsimile of the 1920 edition.