BY NORIS LEDESMA
FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANIC GARDEN
As published in the Miami Herald.
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 the Caribbean, South America, and Asia.
Mamey sapote has been grown in South Florida since the mid-1800 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
form 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, reveling 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.
Growing Mamey Sapote in South Florida
In South 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.
Pruning: 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
Fertilizing: 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!
Noris Ledesma is curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.