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in Tucson, Phoenix,
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Growing White Sapote: Casimiroa edulis

Botanical Overview

A member of the Citrus family (Rutaceae) and distantly related to cultivated citrus, the Casimiroa genus has ten species. Of them, Casimiroa edulis, White Sapote, has the greatest cultivation range. While many regional cultivars have been developed, only a few are found in nurseries.
The name Sapote comes from a Nahuatl word that means soft, edible fruit. White Sapote is not related to Black Sapote (Diospyros nigra) of the Ebony family, nor to Mamey Sapote (Pouteria sapota) of the Sapodilla family.

Description

Form: Tree.
Lifespan: 40-150 years.
Leaf retention: This plant is evergreen, but it may drop leaves if stressed by cold or drought.
Growth rate: Rapid, in spurts.
Mature Size: 15-50' high and as wide.
Flowers: Tiny, five greenish-yellow petals, clustered, without fragrance. While most flowers contain both male and female parts, some may be male only, and others may be incapable of producing pollen.
Bloom: Early to mid winter in regions without freezes. It may bloom several times a year. Some cultivars bloom in alternate years.
Self-fruitful: Yes. Cross pollination with another plant can improve fruit set.
Years before fruiting: When grafted, 3-4; from seed, 7-8.
Fruit: Thin green skin with white flesh, variable in shape and size, resembling an apple, containing 1-5 seeds. When fully ripe and soft, it has a custard like texture with a banana, peach, or vanilla taste. The skin is bitter on some cultivars. While the fruit is sometimes erroneously said to cause drowsiness, the pulp has no sedative compounds.
Months for fruit to ripen: 6-9. Fruit should be harvested when they become very slightly soft on the tree and before they drop. Remove fruit by cutting the stems with clippers. Removing them without clipping, or having dropped when soft, results in internal bruising leading to decay and bad tasting pulp.
The fruit may drop off the tree early while still hard. In that case, take them inside to ripen up. They will continue to ripen after harvest, and the stem will fall off when a fruit is fully ripe. The fruit must be handled with care and are easily bruised internally, becoming bitter under the bruise.
Storage after harvest: Ripen at room temperature. Ripe fruit can be stored up to two weeks in a refrigerator.
Leaves: Reddish new growth turns to glossy green, 3-7 lance-shaped leaflets joined at the base, dense shade.
Stems: No thorns. The branches are somewhat brittle and young trees should be protected from wind. Older branches become stronger but should not be climbed. The trunk and branches are prone to sunscald if not shaded by leaves.
Roots: This tree is usually grafted onto rootstock, such as Casimiroa edulis 'Pike', which grows vigorously. 'Pike' produces a long tap root and invasive side roots that spread beyond the drip line.
Cultivars of Note:
'Suebelle', from California, a smaller tree that grows 15-20' high, has small to average size fruit with the best flavor of all White Sapote cultivars grown in the United States. It bears all year in climates without freezes and is hardy to 30°F when young, to 22°F when mature.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees. The fruit attracts birds and mammals.
Toxic / Danger: The seeds are poisonous. The leaves, bark and seeds contain sedative compounds.
Origin: Central Mexico.

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Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 9b-11. The cold hardiness of this tree varies by cultivar. Some are hardy to 26°F or even 22°F. Some need to stay above 30°F during their first few years in the ground.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Young trees need part shade in high temperatures. Trees in the ground more than two years are heat tolerant in full sun.
Drought tolerant: Increases with age.
Sun: Full sun after two years in the ground, but southern, not western, sun.
Planting: Locate this plant in full sun where it has a southern exposure, is protected from strong winds, and can be given shade cloth protection the first two years. It should be away from low areas where cold winter air may collect. The soil in that location must drain exceptionally well. This tree can be grown in a container 18-30" in diameter and 18" deep. A larger pot will be needed as the tree grows.
Soil: This tree needs very well drained soil and is not tolerant of waterlogged or flooded ground. It does best with pH 5.6-7.8 (slightly acidic to slightly alkaline), and can tolerate alkaline soil if given plant micronutrients to overcome nutritional deficiencies. It is tolerant of most soil types otherwise, but is not salt tolerant.
Fertilize: Apply an organic fertilizer every two months. Avoid chemical fertilizers to avoid salt buildup. Use plant micronutrients in irrigation water once a year mid winter.
Water after becoming established: Deep water every one or two weeks during the growing season.
Mulch: Spread organic mulch inside the drip line and 8" away from the trunk to retain soil moisture and reduce weeds.
First Two Years' Care: Use 50% all day shade for the first two years to reduce heat stress and leaf drop in hot climates. Trim off all flowers and flower buds in the first year to establish better root growth. Deep water every 2-3 days at the start, then gradually lengthen the interval from every 4 to 7 days. Protect from temperatures below 30°F.
Prune: Remove horizontal branches to avoid weak branching. Prune at top to maintain a height of 10-12' to reduce wind damage and make the tree easier to maintain. Some low branches should remain to shade the trunk and prevent sunscald. Remove any grass and other plants growing within the drip line to reduce nutrient and water competition.
Litter: Moderate. Messy fruit drop if not harvested.
Propagation: Mature budwood with gray bark grafted onto vigorous seedlings. Seed must be cleaned, air dried, and planted within 3 weeks of removal from its fruit. Seed does not grow true to the parent.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit. A tea made of the leaves causes drowsiness. The ground up seeds are used to kill cockroaches.

Comments

These trees do well wherever citrus trees are grown. Another common name for this plant is Mexican Apple. The Nahuatl name for this plant means "Sleep Sapote" but that refers to the leaves and bark of the tree, not the edible fruit pulp.


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White Sapote: Casimiroa edulis - flowers

White Sapote: Casimiroa edulis - fruit

White Sapote: Casimiroa edulis - leaves

White Sapote: Casimiroa edulis


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Latest update: January, 2021