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Growing Cherimoya: Annona cherimola

Botanical Overview

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 name Cherimoya is derived from a Quechua word meaning "cold seed" due to the plant's liking for cold, but not much below freezing, climates.

Description

Form: Tree.
Lifespan: 20 to 50 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen, but briefly deciduous. This tree loses its leaves for one month late spring or early summer for flowering and leaf changeover.
Growth rate: Moderate to Rapid.
Mature Size: 15-30' high and as wide.
Flowers: Three long, thin, petals, greenish-white to brown on the outside and white on the inside, strongly fragrant. The flower opens in two stages. First stage, partially open, the stigma (female) is receptive to pollen. Second stage, hours later, fully open, the anthers (male) disperse pollen.
Bloom: Late spring or early summer just after leaf drop.
Self-fruitful: Yes. In the southern hemisphere, the Cherimoya has beetles which pollinate it. In North America, the flowers are best pollinated by hand. Anthers are clipped off flowers fully opened as males, and the pollen is refrigerated until the next day. A small brush is used to pollinate the partially open, female receptive flowers. Careful observation will reveal which hours of the morning, day, evening, or night are most effective for pollination.
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. The large, dark, glossy, bean-like seed within each fruitlet is easily removed. 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. The fruit are bad-tasting when overripe.
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 fibrous roots that will stay shallow unless deep watered. This plant is often grafted or budded onto seedling rootstock. The roots are slow growing and weak when the tree is young.
Wildlife: This tree seldom attracts natural pollinators. Mammals are attracted to the fruit.
Toxic / Danger: Leaves, stems and seed are toxic if ingested. Juice from crushed seeds can cause blindness if it gets into the eyes.
Origin: Central America.

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By Hannes Grobe 2131, 5 November 2006 (UTC) - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-1343782

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 10-11. These trees are tip damaged at 29°F and suffer severe damage or are killed at 25°F. The Quechua saying is "Cherimoya like to see snow but not be touched by it." For regions with the possibility of freezes, wrapping the trunk and major branches in insulation, when a freeze is predicted, may help.
Chill hours: 50-100.
Heat tolerant: No. This tree needs extra shade and water above 90°F. It is especially intolerant of windy, dry heat.
Drought tolerant: Not in temperatures over 90°F.
Sun: Full sun to part shade.
Planting: These instructions are for regions with summer temperatures over 105°F and the possibility of freezing temperatures in winter: Locate this tree so it receives full morning sun and deciduous afternoon shade, in front of a south-facing wall or building, but away from any low-lying spot where cold air collects. In summer, it must receive afternoon shade, in winter, full sun. It will need wind protection to avoid branch breakage and excessive drying. Newly planted trees must be staked until three years in the ground to prevent the tree from being toppled by the wind. This plant can be grown in a large container.
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 deficiency.
Water after becoming established: Deep water every two weeks spring through fall. Change the watering frequency to monthly from mid-fall to mid-winter to encourage dormancy. These trees are intolerant of standing water and develop root rot in soggy soil.
Mulch: Spread organic mulch under the canopy and 8" away from the trunk and its root flare to reduce moisture evaporation and shield the roots from temperature extremes. Mulch that touches the trunk may cause crown rot.
First Three Years' Care: These trees need special care the first three years. Remove the tree from its pot with extreme care when transplanting to avoid root damage which can result in root rot. Provide part shade from morning until mid afternoon when it must receive full shade and wind protection. Protect it from freezing the first three years. Stake the tree to prevent wind movement because the slow growing, weak roots allow the young tree to topple in strong winds.
Prune: A strong tree structure must be developed to support heavy fruit. See Training and Pruning of Cherimoya.
Litter: Leaf drop in late spring or early summer.
Propagation: Cuttings can be grafted or budded onto seedling rootstock of any Annona species. Rooted cuttings have a low success rate, with young shoots performing better than older ones. Seeds can be used to breed Cherimoya but are highly variable and have less desirable fruiting characteristics.
Uses: Edible fruit, ornamental, shade. The fruit are often used to flavor ice cream, sorbet, or to make juice mixed with other fruit juices.

Comments

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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Latest update: January, 2021