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Pouteria caimito (Ruiz & Pav.) Radlk. 1882
pronounced: po-TER-ee-uh KAI-mih-toe
(Sapotaceae – the sapote family)
common name: Abiu
Pouteria is latinized from the Guiana vernacular name pourama-pouteri; caimito is the West Indian name for the star apple.
This is an evergreen fruit tree from the headwaters of the Amazon. It grows wild on the lower eastern slopes of the Andes from south-western Venezuela to Peru. It is found in forests, especially in areas that are seasonally flooded, and by the coast, at elevations from sea level to 1500 m. It requires a year-round moist and warm climate. In its native habitat it reaches heights of 5 – 15 m, but the commercial varieties are usually less than 7 m high. It has a pyramidal or rounded crown. A gummy latex, white or reddish, exudes from wounds in the bark. The young tree photographed is in the garden of exotic fruits at Magnetic Island State School.
The leaves are alternate, longish and leathery, highly variable in shape, oblong-ovate, obovate or elliptic; 10 -20 cm long, 3 – 6 cm wide, short-pointed at the apex, sometimes long-tapering at the base. on a short stalk.
The flowers are small and white or greenish, 4 – 8 mm long, with 4 or 5 petals, and appear singly or in clusters at the axil of the leaf or at a leaf scar. Up to 280 flowers have been counted on a single branch. The flowers open in the morning, stay open for about 2 days, and are usually cross-pollinated by insects, although some forms are self-fertile. Depending on the climate, there are usually 2 or 3 flowerings per year, and these may overlap with the fruit set. The development time from flower to ripe fruit is about 3 months.
The fruit is a berry, with a smooth leathery skin, 3 – 5 mm thick, containing an irritating latex when the fruit is green. The mature fruit turns bright yellow. It varies in shape from ellipsoidal to spherical, and may have a nipple-like pointed end. Its diameter varies from 6 – 10 cm. The flesh is soft, gelatinous, translucent-white, and each fruit contains up to 4 large dark brown seeds, that have a pale hilum on one side. The thin skin bruises easily, and the fruit will not store for more than a few days. A large mature tree will produce anything from 100 to 1,000 fruits per year.
Abiu is usually eaten slightly chilled, by halving the fruit and scooping out the flesh with a spoon, or by cutting into segments and eating either alone or in a fruit salad. Its flavour may be enhanced by adding a little lime juice. It can also be used for juice, and in making ice-cream. It has a sweet caramel flavour. If the fruit is not completely ripe, latex from the skin may stick to the lips – in some places people grease their lips to prevent this.
The timber is heavy, hard, straight-grained, and of medium texture. It is used for construction and other outdoor purposes.
In Brazil a pulp made from the plant is used to relieve coughs and bronchitis.
As it can grow into a very large tree, in cultivation it is often kept pruned to about 4 m to facilitate harvesting.
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 the fruit by Rodrigo Argenton via Wikimedia Commons, used temporarily until the local tree fruits.
Photographed in Nelly Bay 2018
Page last updated 20th May 2018