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Annona muricata L. 1753
pronounced: uh-NO-nuh mur-ee-KAR-tuh
(Annonaceae – the custard apple family)
common name: Soursop
Annona is the Latinized form of the American Indian (Taino∗) vernacular name for the Cherimoya. This plant is Annona cherimoya, a fruit tree very similar to our custard apple, that grows in the high regions of Ecuador and Peru. The word Cherimoya is from the Quechua† word chirimuya, which means ‘cold seeds’, because the plant grows at high altitudes and the seeds will germinate only at higher altitudes. Muricata is from the Latin muricatus, pointed, which in turn is from murex, a fish with sharp spines from which a purple dye was made.
Native to the West Indies, the soursop has spread throughout the humid tropics, and is widely grown commercially. It is generally a small to medium tree up to 8 m, low-branching and bushy, but slender because of its upturned limbs. Young branchlets are rusty-hairy. The malodorous leaves, normally evergreen, are alternate, smooth and glossy, dark green on the upper surface and lighter beneath. They are oblong, elliptic or narrow-obovate, pointed at both ends, 6 – 20 cm long and 2.5 – 6 cm broad. The flowers, which are borne singly, may emerge anywhere on the trunk, branches or twigs. They are short-stalked, 4 – 5 cm long, plump, and triangular-conical, the 3 fleshy, slightly spreading, outer petals yellow-green, the 3 close-set inner petals pale yellow.
The fruit is more-or-less oval or heart-shaped, sometimes irregular due to insect injury. The size is 10 – 30 cm long and up to 15 cm wide, and a fruit can weigh up to 6 km. The fruit is compound, and covered with a reticulate, leathery-looking but tender, inedible bitter skin from which protrudes soft, pliable spines. The tips of these break off easily when the fruit is ripe. The skin is dark green on the immature fruit, becoming slightly yellowish green before the mature fruit is soft to the touch. Its inner surface is cream-coloured and granular, and separates easily from the mass of snow-white, fibrous, juicy segments surrounding the central soft-pithy core. The pulp smells a little like pineapples, but has its own unique flavour, musky and fairly acidic. Most of the closely-packed segments are seedless, but each fertile segment has a single oval, smooth, hard, black seed 1–2 cm long; a large fruit may contain anywhere between a couple of dozen and 200 or more seeds.
This is a food plant for the caterpillars of a number of lepidoptera, including:
• the Green Spotted Triangle or Tailed Jay Graphium agamemnon,
• the Fivebar Swordtail Graphium aristeus,
• the Pale Green Triangle Graphium eurypylus,
• the Green Triangle Graphium macfarlanei, and
• the moth Meganoton rufescens.
In Indonesia a sweetmeat, dodol sirsak, is made by boiling soursop pulp in water and adding sugar till the mixture hardens. Soursop is also a common ingredient in the fruit juices sold by street vendors. It is a popular fruit in Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. In much of Central and South America soursops are processed into ice creams, sherbets and beverages. Immature soursops are often cooked and eaten as a vegetable. In Australia, the soursop is usually grown as a back-yard fruit tree. The tree photographed is on the nature strip in Magnetic Street, Picnic Bay, on the section near the recreation camp. Nutritionally, the fruit is high in carbohydrates, particularly fructose. The fruits also contain significant amounts of vitamins C, B1 and B2. The fruits, seeds and leaves have a number of herbal medicinal uses among indigenous peoples in regions where the plant is common. Many illnesses, ranging from stomach ailments to worms, are treated by a tea made from the leaves, by juice, and by the fruit itself. In the Caribbean it is believed that laying the leaves of the soursop on a bed beneath a sleeping person with a fever will break the fever by the next morning; and an infusion of the leaves in boiling water will help induce sleep. A warning: research carried out in the Caribbean has suggested a connection between consumption of soursop and some forms of Parkinson’s disease, due to a very high concentrate of annonacin.
∗ indigenous peoples of Bahamas, Antilles, and Lesser Antilles
† the language spoken by the majority of the indigenous South American peoples
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 Picnic Bay 2009-2015
Page last updated 15th July2018