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Chrysophyllum cainito L. 1753
pronounced: kris-oh-FILL-um kai-NEE-toh
(Sapotaceae – the sapote family)
common name: Star Apple
This tree is a native of the lowlands of Central America and the West Indies. It grows rapidly, and can reach 20 m in height. The leaves are evergreen, alternate, simple, oval, entire, 5–15 cm long; the underside is golden in colour (hence the name of the genus), and shines when seen from a distance. The tiny flowers are purplish white, and have a fragrant scent.
The apple-like fruit is spherical, purple-skinned when ripe (but often still green around the calyx), with a star pattern in the pulp. There is also a variety with greenish white fruit. The skin is rich in latex, and neither it nor the rind is edible. The flattened seeds are light brown and hard. After the tree reaches about 7 years of age, it bears fruit for much of the year, but especially in mid-to-late winter, or early spring to early summer. The fruits do not fall when ripe, but should be hand-picked, by clipping the stem, when fully coloured (purple form) or when softening (green form). The skin will be dull and a trifle wrinkled. Fruit picked too early will not mature, and contains an unpleasant latex. The fruit is difficult to transport because of its soft nature and short life. It will keep for up to 3 weeks at 3º–6ºC and 90% relative humidity.
The fresh fruits are delicious as a dessert; they are sweet, and are best served chilled. They have a low acidity, and a little lime juice enhances the flavour. I have seen the flavour of the fruits described as ‘a wonderful caramel vanilla ice-cream flavour’. The fruits should not be bitten into. When opening a star apple, care must be taken to prevent the bitter latex from the skin from getting on to the edible flesh. The easiest way of eating them is probably to cut the fruit in halves and spoon out the flesh, leaving the seed cells and the core. A combination of the chopped flesh with that of mango, citrus, pineapple and any other fruits that might be available, plus coconut water, is frozen and served as ‘Jamaican Fruit Salad Ice’. In Jamaica, the flesh is often eaten with sour orange juice, a combination called ‘matrimony’; or it is mixed with orange juice, a little sugar, grated nutmeg and a spoonful of sherry – this is called ‘strawberries and cream’. Bolivians parboil the edible portion, and also prepare it as a decoction. An emulsion of the slightly bitter seed kernels is used to make imitation milk-of-almonds, and also nougats and other confections. An attractive way to serve the fruit is to cut around the middle completely through the rind and then, holding the fruit stem downwards, twist the top gently back and forth, As this is done, the flesh will be felt to free itself from the downward half of the rind, and the latter will pull away, taking with it the greater part of the core.
The fruit has some medicinal uses. The ripe fruit is eaten to soothe inflammation of the larynx. In Venezuela, the slightly unripe fruits are eaten to treat intestinal disorders: in excess, they cause constipation. A decoction of the rind, or of the leaves, is taken for chest complaints. An infusion of the tannin-rich, astringent bark is drunk as a tonic and stimulant, and is taken to halt diarrhoea. The pulverized seed is taken as a tonic, diuretic and febrifuge. In Brazil, the latex of the tree is applied on abscesses, and, when dried and powdered, is given as a potent vermifuge.
The heartwood is whitish, often with a pinkish tinge when freshly cut, but darkening to yellowish or greyish brown, often with irregular dark stripes, and indistinctly demarcated from the slightly paler sapwood. The grain is straight, occasionally wavy or interlocked, and the texture fine to moderately fine. The timber is medium-weight, and dries slowly. The rates of shrinkage are fairly high, but with some care, it air-dries well with little degrade. The wood is brittle and not very shock-resistant. It is easy to saw, works well with hand and machine tools, and it can be planed to an excellent finish. It does not easily split when nailed, and it holds nails and screws well. It has good gluing properties, and peels and slices satisfactorily. It is only moderately durable and liable to fungal discoloration and attack by termites and marine borers unless treated with preservatives using pressure processes.
It is used for general indoor construction, such as planking, light framing, flooring, interior trim, lining, shelving, cladding, panelling and partitioning. It is also suitable for mouldings, light tool handles, inlaying, carving, joinery, turnery, furniture and cabinet making. Good-quality veneer and plywood can be obtained from it, and the pulp makes good quality paper.
Caterpillars of the Achaea species of butterfly have been observed feeding on this plant.
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.
Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2009
Page last updated 15th March 2018