A member of the custard apple family, Annonaceae, and the Annona genus, Cherimoya is closely
related to Custard Apple, Sugar Apple, and Soursop, and distantly related to the North American Pawpaw.
Dozens of Cherimoya cultivars have been developed. The largest commercial crop is produced in Spain.
In the United States, the only commercial production occurs in California. Demand outstrips supply outside
South America, where it is supplied by thousands of backyard farmers. The name Cherimoya is derived from a
Quechua word meaning "cold seed".
Lifespan: Likely 20 to 50 years.
Leaf retention: Deciduous. Loses leaves for one month late spring
or early summer.
Growth rate: Moderate to Rapid.
Mature Size: 15-30' high and as wide.
Flowers: Three long, thin, fragrant petals, greenish-white to brown on
the outside and white on the inside.
The flower opens in two stages, avoiding self-pollination. First stage, partially open, the stigma (female)
is receptive to pollen. Second stage 36 hours later, fully open, the anthers (male) disperse pollen and
the stigma is non-receptive.
Bloom: Late spring or early summer just after leaf drop.
Self-fruitful: No. Needs a second plant. Due to the lack of natural
pollinators, the flowers must be pollinated by hand. Anthers are clipped off the first flowers fully opened
as males, and the pollen refrigerated until the next day if necessary. A small brush is used to pollinate the
partially open, female receptive flowers.
Years before fruiting: 2-3 years if grafted, 2-4 years from seed.
Fruit: Conical to heart-shaped, green skin with indentations,
overlapping thin scales, or large bumps, weighing from one-half to six pounds. It is a compound fruit, with
each indentation/scale/bump being one fruitlet, containing one seed. Sometimes a fruitlet does not get
pollinated and is missing the seed. The white flesh has a fruity, sweet, aromatic, custard-like flavor.
A fully ripe Cherimoya is one of the ten best-tasting fruits in the world and is the best tasting species
of Annona. Its one drawback is the large, dark, glossy, bean-like seed within each fruitlet. Mature trees
may produce 30-250 fruits per year, depending on age, growing conditions, and cultivar.
Months for fruit to ripen: 5-7. The fruit are ready to harvest when
still firm but having changed in color from dark green to yellow-green. They are picked by clipping
the stem and leaving a bit of stem on the fruit. Cherimoya continues to ripen after harvest when picked
after the color change. The best flavor occurs when the fruit is picked just after becoming soft, but it
must be consumed or frozen immediately.
Storage after harvest: The fruit are highly perishable and easily
damaged by handling. They can be refrigerated for 3-4 days when still firm. When soft, they must be
immediately processed, frozen, or eaten. Commercial growers avoid cultivars with bumpy skin because
the bumps bruise fruit next to them when packed together.
Leaves: Elliptic with a pointed end and rounded at the base,
green and smooth on top, fine rust-colored hairs underneath when young.
Stems: Young stems are covered in rust-colored hairs. Older stems
are woody and sappy.
Roots: A taproot initially forms, then gives way to shallow roots.
Often grafted or budded onto seedling rootstock.
Cultivars of Note:
'Bays' medium size, spherical shape, smooth skin;
'Big Sister' large size, smooth skin; very good flavor;
this smaller tree is a heavy producer; flowers often self-fruitful.
'Deliciosa' large size, conical shape, very bumpy skin;
fair variable flavor; more frost hardy.
'El Bumpo' medium size, conical shape, very bumpy skin;
'Fino de Jete' large size, heart shaped, indented skin;
'Honeyhart' medium size, smooth skin; excellent flavor,
very juicy, and the best cultivar for juicing.
'Nata' small size, conical shape, smooth skin; flavor
very good; a vigorous tree and a heavy producer; numerous flowers tend to self-pollinate.
'Ott' small to medium, spherical shape, small bumps on skin;
sweet mild flavor; fares poorly in coastal areas.
'Pierce' medium size, ovoid shape, smooth skin;
excellent flavor; fares poorly in coastal areas.
'Ryerson' medium size, conical shape, very smooth skin;
very sweet agreeable flavor; early ripening.
Wildlife: Does not attract natural pollinators. Mammals are attracted
Toxic / Danger: Leaves, stems and seed are toxic if ingested.
Origin: South or Central America, with Ecuador and Northern Peru
having the greatest genetic diversity. The tree naturally grows in sub-tropical to mild temperate climates.
It is said that it likes to see snow but not be touched by it. It has been cultivated, transported, and
traded for at least 4500 years, making its place of origin obscure.
Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 9b-11. Young plants are tip damaged at
29°F. Older plants can withstand 25°F. Frost-intolerant.
Chill hours: 50-100.
Heat tolerant: No. Needs extra shade and water above 90°F.
Especially intolerant of windy, dry heat.
Sun: Full sun to part shade.
Drought tolerant: Temperature dependent.
Water after becoming established: Once a week or more,
depending on temperature, spring through fall. The trees should be watered only monthly from mid-fall
to mid-winter to encourage dormancy. They are intolerant of standing water.
Soil: Well drained, moderate to high organic content,
pH 5.6-8.0 (acidic to slightly alkaline).
Fertilize: Use an organic fertilizer in February, May, and August.
Yellow leaves indicate a reaction to cold, or to the soil being too wet or too dry, and not a nutritional
Mulch: Add 4-8" of compost under the canopy but one foot away from
the trunk and its root flare. Mulch that touches the trunk may cause crown rot. Mulch will reduce
water evaporation and shield the roots from summer heat.
Spacing: 20-25' except closer when frequent pruning is practiced.
Planting: These trees need special care the first three years,
like avocados, and can be grown in large containers. They need wind protection to avoid branch breakage
and excessive drying.
First Year Care: Transplant from pot with extreme care to avoid root
damage which can result in root rot. Protect from freezing the first three years. Provide part shade morning
and noon, with full afternoon shade and wind protection.
Prune: Remove all dead and crossing branches when dormant.
Keep branches off the ground and away from fences and structures to avoid rat access to the canopy.
Litter: Leaf drop in late spring or early summer.
Propagation: Grafted or budded onto seedling rootstock of any Annona
species. Cuttings are difficult to root. Seeds are often used but do not always breed true.
Pests: Very susceptible to root rot, crown rot, and verticillium wilt.
Snails, ants, and mealybugs can be a problem.
Uses: Edible fruit, ornamental, shade. The fruit are often used
to flavor ice cream, sorbet, or to make juice mixed with other fruit juices.
This plant is sometimes called Custard Apple, a name normally used for Annona reticulata.
The names Sugar Apple and Sweetsop refer to Annona squamosa, which is the most widely-grown of the Annonas.
The fruit known as Atemoya is a hybrid of Cherimola and Sugar Apple (A. cherimola x A. squamosa).
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