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Annona reticulata L. 1753
pronounced: uh-NO-nuh reh-tick-yoo-LAR-tuh
(Annonaceae – the custard apple family)
common name: Custard Apple
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. Reticulata is from the Latin reticulatus, net-like.
The custard apple is believed to be a native of the West Indies, but it was carried in early times through Central America to southern Mexico. It has long been cultivated and naturalized as far south as Peru and Brazil. It is commonly grown in the Bahamas, and occasionally in Bermuda and southern Florida. Apparently it was introduced into tropical Africa early in the 17th century, and it is grown in South Africa as a dooryard fruit tree. In India the tree is cultivated, and runs wild in many areas. When I was a boy, most houses in Townsville had a custard apple tree in the back yard. The tree pictured is by the roadside in Wansfall Street, Picnic Bay, near its junction with Yule Street.
The custard apples sold in our supermarkets today are not from this species, but from cultivars developed from the hybrid Annona X atemoya. The skin of their fruits is not segmented like that of Annona reticulata, and to my mind, they have nowhere near the flavour of a well-kept backyard tree of the species, when the fruits have been left to ripen on the tree right up to the point where they will be appetizing to marauding possums. The cultivars of the hybrid are, however, much higher-yielding, and their fruit is easier to transport without bruising.
Annona reticulata is not an especially attractive tree. It is erect, with a rounded or spreading crown and a trunk up to 35 cm thick. Its height ranges up to about 10 m. The rather ill-smelling leaves are deciduous, alternate, oblong or narrow-lanceolate, 10 – 20 cm long, 2 – 5 cm wide, with conspicuous veins. The flowers, in drooping clusters, are fragrant, slender, with 3 narrow fleshy outer petals 2 – 3 cm long, light green externally and pale yellow with a dark red or purple spot on the inside at the base. These flowers never fully open.
The compound fruit, 8 – 16 cm in diameter, may be symmetrically heart-shaped, lop-sided, or irregular; or nearly spherical, or oblate, with a depression at the base. The skin is fairly thin, but tough. When the fruit is ripe, the skin may turn a more yellowy shade of green, and will blacken if left too long. It is difficult to ripen the fruits without their splitting. When they are removed from the tree just prior to possum attack, they will generally ripen well if placed in a brown-paper bag with a banana. Inside the skin is a thick creamy white layer of custard-like, somewhat granular flesh. This surrounds the concolorous moderately juicy segments, most of which contain a single hard dark brown or black glossy seed, oblong, smooth, and a little over 1 cm in length. There can be up to 60 or 70 of these in a single custard apple. There is a pointed fibrous central core attached to the thick stem, and this core extends more than half way through the fruit. The flavour of the fruit is sweet and agreeable.
Custard apple wood is yellow, rather soft, fibrous but durable, and moderately close-grained. It is used to make yokes for oxen, and household utensils.
This is a food plant for the larvae 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 moth Meganoton rufescens,
• the Common Red Eye Chaetocneme beata,
• the Avocado Leafroller Homona spargotis, and
• the Banded Redeye Chaetocneme critomedia.
∗ indigenous peoples of Bahamas, Antilles, and Lesser Antilles
† the language spoken by the majority of the indigenous South American peoples
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009-2015
Page last updated 15th July 2018