The Star Apple

by Gene Joyner, Extension Agent I (retired)
IFAS Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension Service

The star apple Chrysophyllum cainito, is one of the most attractive tropical fruits so far as its foliage. This evergreen tree, native to tropical America, can reach a height of 40 to 50 feet in its native areas, but in Florida it rarely reaches more than 40 feet with about the same width. The trees have very attractive leaves which are deep green above and a silky golden brown beneath and as the wind rustles the foliage this gives a strikingly beautiful effect.

Trees can grow over a wide range of soils and are one of the few trees that actually grows well in highly alkaline soils, even at pH's up to 7.5. Tiny inconspicuous flowers are produced during the summer through early fall. Trees produce a delicious fruit too, and the fruits are born during the early to late spring. The fruit size can be from 2-1/2 to 3 inches in diameter and there are two varieties, one with purple skin and one with green skin. Both have very sweet whitish flesh which is very good and is usually eaten as a fresh fruit.

Trees grow rapidly, often three to four feet or more in a single growing season. Propagation can be by seed, air layering, or grafting. One of the major problems to the widespread use of the star apple in Florida is its sensitivity to cold. It will get very badly damaged at 29° to 30°F and mature trees can be frozen to the ground by hard freezes. It cannot be planted close to salt water because it also has poor salt tolerance and should be protected by buildings or other more salt tolerant plantings if used close to the ocean or Intracoastal areas. There are no serious pest problems of trees except birds and other animals that attack maturing fruit.

There are some named varieties of star apple available from nurseries but they are difficult to find. The 'Haitian' variety, introduced by William Whitman, which is dark purple, is one of the more common ones seen as grafted plants. Many nurseries that propagate star apples do so simply by planting seeds. Seedlings take about six years or more to bear fruit and if you want superior varieties, plant seedlings and then try to get graft wood from mature bearing trees and do shield budding, or veneer grafting. Trees can also be air layered but air layering usually takes four to six months to be successful.

Plant trees in a rich, well-drained soil; once well established, they are quite resistant to most conditions including high winds. As long as they are protected from cold winds or freezing temperatures, trees have very few problems and produce quantities of delicious fruit each year for one to enjoy.


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