By Noris Ledesma, Curator of Tropical Fruit
Under the Florida sun, mamey trees grows in some backyards in South Florida. From massive branches that shoot straight out to grow football-shaped fruits with leathery skin the texture and color of sandpaper.
Mamey sapote (Pouteria sapota) is native to the seasonally dry forests of Mexico and Central America. It was widely distributed in Central America before Columbus and introduced to theCaribbean, South America, and Asia. Mamey sapote has been grown in South Florida since the mid-1800's and of all tropical fruits; mamey is the one that represents the nostalgia for Cubans. Exiled Cubans longed for a steady supply of mamey and are willing to buy it at any price.
Those who know it well believe that there is no better fruit. Its creamy texture and rich flavor are unmatched. The mamey sapote is a large-spreading canopy tree. The fruit are formed directly on the thick twigs and branches. Nothing about the stark exterior of the fruit prepares you for what is revealed when you cut one open; a long and shiny black seed, revealing the red salmon color of the flesh. The pulp is aromatic and sweet, soft when ripe, almost fiber free.
The mamey sapote is usually eaten fresh. When purchasing mamey sapote, make sure its skin is free of blemishes and that it is firm and mature. Maturity is best determined by nicking the thick skin with your fingernail. A mature mamey sapote should have a red or pink flesh color. If the flesh color is green, the mamey sapote is not mature. To ripen the fruit at home you will need to leave them at room temperature until the fruit softens.
Although mamey sapote fruit can be eaten fresh, popular uses for it include adding it to fruit salads, desserts, milk shakes and other fruit drinks. Because of its interesting taste and texture, the mamey sapote fruit is rapidly gaining in popularity for cooking purposes. Additionally, mamey sapote is high in vitamins A and C, as well as in potassium. It is also an excellent source of dietary fiber. The famous delicious milkshakes from the Caribbean are prepared from mamey sapote.
In Florida the greatest part of the fruit crop matures from May through September, but some mature fruits can be found at any time of the year. Often flowers, immature fruits, and mature fruits will be present on a tree at the same time. An individual fruit takes more than a year to mature on the tree.
They are still some mamey sapote groves in South Florida, and the majority is the ‘Pantin’ cultivar. Other varieties are Pace, Viejo and the gigantic “Magaña’. All of these varieties are available in local nurseries including some of the new Fairchild selections: ‘Lorito’, ‘Cepeda Special”, which were selected for its productivity and red colored flesh.
Mamey sapote is a vigorous tree. For the gardener with plenty of space, mamey sapote can make a picturesque specimen for your backyard. Training the tree is one of the principal requirements to grow it. The tree usually will develop a desirable shape. Big trees can be in danger of damage to the tree and its surroundings during windstorms. Each year after harvest, trees shoud be pruned, removing the upright branches and keeping the tree 6 to 8 feet tall.
Mamey sapote trees grows well in a warm and sunny and preferably frost-free location. Trees prefer well-drained, sandy soil with regular applications of water to young trees. Addition of plant mulch to the soil surface will improve water-holding capacity, nutrient retention and availability to soil structure. Fertilization is best done with three applications per year - March, July and September - with an 8-3-9 application or other fruit tree formulation.
Welcome back to the mamey sapote and the Caribbean and the Aztecs roots even if you have not physically moved. Good growing!