The Atemoya

by Gene Joyner, Extension Agent I

IFAS Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension Service

One of my favorite times of the year is when the annona fruits are in season. Particularly good are the atemoyas, which are hybrids between the cherimoya Annona cherimola and sugar apple A. squamosa. This fruit is also important as a commercial fruit in southern Florida, but it makes an excellent dooryard fruit throughout many areas that are not subjected to severe freezes.

Atemoyas are small-to-medium-size trees growing to about twenty-five to thirty feet at maturity with about the same spread. Flowers are produced along with new growth in the spring following a winter dormancy period, and the fruit usually begin maturing in late August through the end of October.

Atemoyas look very similar in some cases to sugar apples, except they have a smoother skin and the individual segments aren't quite as obvious. Most atemoyas have fewer seeds, too, than sugar apples, which makes them a lot easier to eat as a fresh fruit.

One parent of the atemoya, the cherimoya, is considered one of the finest fruits in the world, but it is only happy at elevations above three thousand feet, and does very poorly when grown at sea level. However, when it is hybridized with sugar apple, a lowland fruit of good quality, the resulting hybrid, called the atemoya, is excellent; in some people's opinion, it is almost as good as a cherimoya, although I think cherimoyas still are better.

The flesh in atemoyas in white, but not as soft and custardlike as its parent sugar apple. This firmer flesh makes the atemoya much better as a shipping fruit, and this has resulted in its commercial planting in many areas around the world. The atemoya fruits vary in size from about three to seven inches and generally are oval or sometimes almost round. Fruits have a light green skin which does not change color appreciably at maturity; only the fruit gets soft.

Fruits can be eaten fresh or used for many types of desserts such as milkshakes and ice cream. Since it is a hybrid, it is not reproduced by seed, and all commercial production is by grafting.

There are many varieties available, but 'Geffner' is probably the most widely planted. Also excellent in quality are 'Page', 'Priestly', and 'African Pride', which is also known as 'Kaller', 'Stermer', and 'Mammoth'.

Trees prefer well-drained, fertile soils for best growth and production, and should be fertilized three to four times a year with a complete fertilizer. Mature trees are fairly cold-hardy, and will take temperatures down to 27°F. before they sustain serious damage. Young trees, though, will be injured by temperatures below 30°F.

Even though atemoyas have some salt tolerance, do not plant them in extremely exposed coastal areas where strong salt winds might burn foliage. Trees generally lose their leaves in the late fall or early winter for a period of about two months before leafing out in the early spring.

Usually considered a small-to-medium sprawling tree, atemoyas can be fruited successfully in large containers, and many people find that this is an excellent specimen plant for use in this manner where limited yard space is available.


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