From the Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits
by Wilson Popenoe




The Sugar Apple
Annona squamosa, L.


With the exception of the little-known ilama (described later), the sugar-apple is the best of the tropical annonas. In its climatic requirements it resembles the bullock's-heart and the soursop, rather than the subtropical cherimoya. In precocity and productiveness it excels all of these species.

The sugar-apple is more widely disseminated throughout the tropics than any other species of Annona, and in many regions is an important fruit. Particularly is it esteemed in India, where it is extensively grown. P. Vincenzo Maria wrote of it in 1672: "The pulp is very white, tender, delicate, and so delicious that it unites to agreeable sweetness a most delightful fragrance like rose water . . . and if presented to one unacquainted with it he would certainly take it for a blanc-mange."


'Fig. 25. The sugar-apple (Annona squamosa), a favorite fruit in India and many parts of tropical America. The tree succeeds particularly well in dry situations. (X 1/3)
Fig. 25. The sugar-apple (Annona squamosa), a favorite fruit in India and many parts of tropical America. The tree succeeds particularly well in dry situations. (X 1/3)


The tree is smaller than that of most other species of the genus, its maximum height being 15 to 20 feet. Like the cherimoya, it is semi-deciduous. The leaves resemble those of A. reticulata except in their smaller size; they are lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate in form, acute or shortly acuminate at the apex and acute at the base, 2 1/2 to 4 inches long, pale green on both surfaces, and glabrate or nearly so, except for the sparsely pubescent petiole. The flowers, which are produced singly or in clusters of two to four, resemble those of A. reticulata. They are greenish yellow in color, about an inch long, the three outer petals oblong, thick, rounded at the tips; the inner petals minute, ovate. The fruit is round, heart-shaped, ovate or conical, 2 to 3 inches in diameter, yellowish green in color. The surface is tuberculate and covered with a whitish bloom. The pulp is white, custard-like, sweet and slightly acidulous in flavor. The carpels, each of which normally contains a brown seed the size of a small bean, cohere loosely or not at all, the sugar-apple differing in this respect from the cherimoya, in which it is difficult to distinguish carpellary divisions in the flesh.


The sugar-apple is indigenous in tropical America. Its abundance in India at a very early period has led several botanists to assume that it was common to tropical America and tropical Asia. More recently, however, the belief has found acceptance that it was originally limited in its distribution to the New World. Alphonse DeCandolle, who discusses this subject at length, concludes: "It can hardly be doubted, in my opinion, that its original home is America, and in especial the West India islands."

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The arguments advanced in favor of an Asiatic origin for the species were the occurrence of common names for it in Sanskrit; the fact of the tree growing wild in several parts of India; and the presence of carvings and wall-paintings, believed to represent the fruit, in the ruins of ancient Muttra and Ajanta. Yule and Burnell (Hobson-Jobson) suggest that it may have reached India from both of two directions: from Mexico via the Philippines and from Hispaniola (Santo Domingo, in the West Indies) via the Cape of Good Hope; in the former instance bringing with it the common name ata, or ate, which is still used in parts of Mexico {e.g., the Huasteca region, near Tampico), and in the latter coming under the name annona. Safford is not certain that the name ata is of American origin; he suspects it may be derived from the Malayan word atis, meaning heart, and that it was carried to Mexico from the Philippines in early days.


In tropical America the sugar-apple is widely distributed. In the lowlands of Mexico it is a popular fruit, often cultivated and not infrequently found in a naturalized or wild state. It is grown from Central America southward to northern South America, extending there on the east into Central Brazil, where it is one of the important cultivated fruits. At Bahia, Brazil, it is said to have been introduced first in 1626 by the Conde de Miranda, after whom it is called fructa do conde (Count's fruit). In Cuba it ranks with the mango as one of the favorite fruits, and it is common in other islands of the West Indies.


In the Orient its cultivation is not limited to India, although it appears to be most extensive there. It is grown in the Philippines, in south China (where it is known as fan-li-chi, or foreign litchi), and in Cochin-China. In many islands of Polynesia it is abundant. Vaughan MacCaughey says: "It is common in many of the older Hawaiian gardens, not only in Honolulu, but also on the other islands of the group." In the French colonies near the African coast it is well known, and it is also reported from the mainland of Africa. Albert H. Benson 1 writes: "It is grown throughout a considerable part of coastal Queensland. ... It is usually a heavy bearer, and is the variety (of annona) most commonly met with in our fruit stores." It is not known to have succeeded in the Mediterranean region, although it has been planted in several districts there. Fruits of Queensland, Dept. Agr. Brisbane, 1911.


So far as is known, the sugar-apple tree has never been grown to fruiting size in California : the climate appears to be too cool for it. In Florida, on the contrary, it is quite successful. P. W. Reasoner records that it has fruited as far north as Putnam County. On the east coast it occurs as far north as Cape Canaveral, and on the west it is found on the south side of the Manatee River. The zone in which it can safely be grown, however, lies farther south, viz., from Punta Gorda on the west coast and Palm Beach on the east to Key West. Throughout this part of Florida it succeeds admirably, and deserves greater popularity than it enjoys at present.


In addition to sugar-apple, a name probably of West Indian origin, the term sweet-sop is used in the British West Indies. In India it is called custard-apple by English-speaking people. Its commonest name in Hindustani is sharifa (meaning noble) : but it is also called sitaphal (the fruit of Sita). The name ata is given it in parts of India. In the French colonies the names are pomme-cannelle (cinnamon apple) and atte. In the interior of Brazil the Portuguese name is pinha; on the coast atta and fructa do conde are also heard. In Mexico the Spanish terms are anona, anona blanca, and (erroneously) saramuya and chirimoya. In Cuba anon is the form generally used ; this also appears in Costa Rica. The Aztec name used in ancient Mexico was texaltzapotl, meaning "zapote which grows on stony ground." The botanical synonyms of A. squamosa, L., are several; Safford lists A. cinerea, Dunal, A. Forskahlii, DC, and A. biflora, Moc. & Sesse.

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The sugar-apple is preeminently a dessert fruit. Unlike the soursop, it is never made into preserves nor is it commonly used for sherbets. In composition it is similar to the cherimoya. Alice R. Thompson, who has analyzed the fruit in Hawaii, has found it to contain: Total solids 24.82 per cent, ash 0.67 per cent, acids 0.12 per cent, protein 1.53 per cent, total sugars 18.15 per cent, fat 0.54 per cent, and fiber 1.22 per cent. In spite of its similarity in most chemical constituents, the sugar-apple is not equal to the cherimoya in flavor. It has less piquancy, less character than the latter.


The climatic requirements of the tree are somewhat different from those of its congeners. It delights in a hot and relatively dry climate, such as that of the low-lying interior plains of many tropical countries. In Central America it is rarely seen at elevations greater than 2500 feet. In hardiness it ranks between the soursop and the cherimoya. Mature plants are not seriously injured by temperatures of 28° or 29° above zero; young ones may be killed at 30°.


G. Marshall Woodrow 1 says: "A deep, very stony soil with perfect drainage, enriched with decayed town sweepings, are the conditions enjoyed by this hardy fruit tree." In other regions it has been noted that it does well on rocky land, although it is probable that it prefers a loose sandy loam. Since it is rarely given systematic cultivation, little can be said regarding cultural methods. F. S. Earle has found in Cuba that it needs to be fertilized generously for the best results in fruit production, and he recommends a commercial fertilizer containing 3 per cent nitrogen, 10 per cent phosphoric acid, and 10 per cent potash. The sugar-apple withstands drought better than many other fruit-trees.


The methods of propagation employed are the same as with the cherimoya. Shield-budding has given the most satisfactory results in Florida. P. J. Wester has found that A. reticulata and A. glabra are congenial stock-plants; seedling sugar-apples are also used for the purpose, and are perhaps better than those of a different species.


Compared with other species of Annona, the sugar-apple bears heavily. This does not mean, however, that the trees habitually load themselves with fruit, for they rarely do so. A mature tree, fifteen feet in height, may produce several dozen fruits in a season. Usually all of them do not ripen at one time; thus the season is much longer than that of the cherimoya. In Florida it is common to pick ripe fruits during as many as six months out of the year. When the fruits are fully ripe, they burst open on the tree. They should be picked before reaching this stage and placed in the house, where they will soften in one to three days. After they have softened and are ready for eating, they must be handled with care. The fruit of the sugar-apple is not so well adapted to shipping long distances as that of the cherimoya. 1 Gardening in India.


Seedlings usually come into bearing when three or four years old. Some are much more productive than others, and there is much variation in the size and quality of fruit produced by different trees. When a tree has proved to be unusually good, it should be propagated by budding.



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Bibliography

Popenoe, Wilson. "The Sugar Apple". chestofbooks.com. Manual of Tropical and Subtropical fruits. 1920. Web. 28 Dec. 2014.

Published 28 Dec. 2014 LR. Updated 25 Jan. 2016 LR
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