The Start Apple (Chrysophyllum cainito)

Sunday, October 13, 2013






As published in the Miami Herald


Star Apple (Chrysophyllum cainito) is a tropical fruit native to the lowlands of Central America and West India. The fruit has a star like design when it is sliced, hence its common name Star Apple.



The start apple its mostly appreciated as a fruit tree in home landscapes. It is a beautiful tree, making a perfect tree for landscaping in South Florida. The canopy opens forming an umbrella shape where the underside leaves shines with a golden brown color meanwhile the upper side shines with an emerald green color. The tiny flowers are purplish white and have a sweet fragrant smell than attracts hummingbirds and bees.


The fruit exist in two colors, dark purple and green. The purple fruit has a denser skin and texture while the greenish fruit has a thin skin and a more liquid pulp. Both have a delicate flesh than explodes with juice in your mouth with each bite. The star apple fruit range from sweet with just a hint of perfume to sweet floral aroma. Start apple go under a number of names including cainito, caimito,  golden leaf tree, and

milk fruit.


Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden has been selecting superior varieties of start apple in different locations with emphasis from the Pacific coast of  Costa Rica. These selections are purple and green skinned and were selected for superior production and fruit quality.


Enthusiasm for growing and eating uncommon fruits will probably create a need for skills in plant propagation.  The start apple can be propagated by cuttings, air layers or grafting. Seed propagation can be used to develop new cultivars. The fruits of seedlings may not match the quality of its parent and in some cases you must wait many years before a seedling bears its first fruit. A small commercial industry of start apple exits in south Florida and Local nurseries carry grafted varieties, including 'Haitian Star', a purple peel type, and 'Blanco Star', a green peel type.


All varieties should be planted in the late spring. Start pruning for the future when the tree still young. Proper training also will shape the tree to a form that allows all the branches to be bathed in air and sufficient light, even when the tree goes old. In the first years the branches should be tipped to encourage the formation of a bushy canopy. A canopy with many branches will bloom earlier than a canopy without pruning. Annual pruning of will trees at a manageable height and provide ready access to the fruit.


The trees should be fertilized three times per year (March, July and September) using 8-3-9 or other fruit tree formulation.  In the home landscape the tree will require no irrigation after establishment. Mature trees are seriously injured by low temperatures (below 28º F).


Start apple will start blooming from August to October depending of the cultivar, and fruit are generally harvested from late winter or early spring to early summer. Fruit do not fall when ripe and therefore must be harvested by hand when fully mature. Fruit are fully mature when the skin color turns a dull color (purple or green) and is slightly wrinkled and soft. Immature fruit will be astringent and inedible due to the gummy latex found in the flesh. Once mature fruit are picked, they may be allowed to fully ripen at room temperature. Once ripe, fruit may be stored in the refrigerator until consumed.


The fruit has is a good source of vitamin C, rich in minerals, and potassium. The fruits are delicious as a fresh dessert fruit. The ripe fruit, preferably chilled, may be merely cut in half and the flesh spooned out, leaving the seed cells and core. The sweet fruits are eaten raw and in desserts and salads. They are also boiled and made into preserves. An interesting drink called "matrimony" is prepared by scooping out the inside pulp of a star apple and adding it to a glass of sour orange juice.

Noris Ledesma is Curator of Tropical Fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

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