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Pouteria sapota (Jacq.) H.E.Moore & Stearn 1967
pronounced: po-TER-ee-uh suh-POH-tuh
(Sapotaceae – the sapote family)
common names: Mamey Sapote, Red Sapote
Pouteria is latinized from the Guiana vernacular name pourama-pouteri; sapota is believed to have come from the Aztec tzapotl, a general term applied to several soft fruits.
The tree occurs naturally at low elevations in South America, from southern Mexico to northern Nicaragua. It is now grown (and possibly naturalized) in many parts of Central and South America, and it was also introduced into the Philippines and Vietnam. In Cuba it is often grown for shading coffee, as it loses its leaves at the time when the coffee plants need sun. The young tree photographed is in the garden of exotic fruts at the Magnetic Island State School.
This is an erect tree that often grows to 18 tall, and even sometimes to 40 m, with either a short or a tall trunk measuring up to 1 m in diameter. The trunk is often narrowly buttressed, has a narrow or spreading crown, and exudes a white, gummy latex.
The small white to pale yellow flowers, almost sessile, emerge in clusters of 6 to 12 in the axils of fallen leaves along the branches. Each flower has 5 each of stamens and staminodes; the pistil has only one stigma, and the ovary has 5 carpels.
Seedling trees take 7 years or longer to come into fruit, while grafted trees may bear in 3 – 5 years. It takes from 13 – 24 months for fruit to reach maturity, and so trees may have flowers, immature fruit and mature fruit all at the same time. The fruit may be spherical, ovoid or ellipsoid, often bluntly pointed at the apex. It is from about 7 – 23 cm long, and can be more than 3 kg in weight. It has rough, dark brown, firm, leathery, semi-woody skin to about 1.5 mm thick. The flesh is salmon-pink to deep red in colour, soft, sweet and pumpkin-like in flavour, and encloses up to 4 large spindle-shaped pointed seeds, hard, glossy brown with a whitish, slightly rough hilum on the ventral side. The large kernel is oily and bitter, with a bitter-almond odour.
This is one of the most popular fruits in Central America. The tree is a prolific cropper, and mature trees can bear up to 500 fruits a year, or even more. The fruit may be eaten raw or green, and the flesh is used to make sherbets, jam, ice-cream, drinks and sauces. It can also be dried. Unripe fruits are cooked as a vegetable. In some parts of Central America, ground sapote seeds are used to give chocolate a bitter flavour and characteristic odour. In Costa Rica, they have been used as a linen starch.
The Aztecs used parts of the tree to treat epilepsy. In Guatemala and El Salvador the oil from the seed is used as a skin tonic, to prevent baldness and to treat rheumatism. The seed also has stupefying properties. The latex produced by the tree is used as a caustic to remove warts and fungal growths from the skin.
The timber is strong and solid, and is used to make, among other things, furniture.
The latex is highly irritant to the eyes, and caustic on the skin. The leaves are said to be poisonous.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photograph of fruit from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, via Wikimedia Commons, and is shown temporarily until such time as the local tree fruits.
Photographed in Nelly Bay 2018
Page last updated 19th May 2018