Tropical Garden Landscaping

The Annona Family

THE ANNONACEAE FAMILY

... In fact we have an important native annona, the Pond Apple found growing along canals, ponds and streams, here in South Florida. The Pond Apple is one of the few trees, besides cypress and mangrove, that can tolerate growth in standing water.

Annonaceous trees are an excellent addition to any landscape design as they are easy to grow, are suitable for small yards and produce delicious fruits. Most of the varieties in this plant family are small to medium size trees, even when fully mature and blend well with other shrubs such as flowering or tropical fruit trees. The two most popular annonas are the Sugar apple (Annona squamosa) and the Atemoya (Annona cherimola hybridized with Annona squamosa).

The Annonas by Bill Mee

Sugar apples which are also known as sweetsops by people from the Islands and Caribbean and sitafal by people from India, grow from seed to fruit rapidly, usually within 3 years, although there are some selected varieties which are grafted and can produce fruit within 1 to 2 years. Typically, sugar apples flower in the late spring to early summer and set fruit in late August through September. Cherimoyas are grown throughout the tropical Americas, but require lower humidity and higher elevation to set fruit.

They are also grown commercially in California and occasionally are available in specialty supermarkets such as Whole Foods. The atemoya overcomes this problem and grows well in Southern Florida. It is a cross between a sugar apple and cherimoya.

Several varieties of atemoya such as the Gefner and Priestley are a commonly found in backyard tropical fruit collections. These are excellent tasting fruit and should be part of even the smallest collections. If you decide to grow sugar apples, and you really should place them on your “to grow” list, make sure that you mulch them heavily and add lots of rotten kitchen waste to the mulch mix during the season when the trees flower.

The primary pollinator of Annonaceous trees are nitidulid beetles. Beetles in this genus do not predate either the flower or fruit, but are apparently attracted by the fragrance emanating from the stigma of the freshly opened flower. Annonas, such as sugar apples and atemoyas, have a distinctive subtle fragrance, suggestive of a fruity ester.

When the flowers first open, this fragrance apparently attracts these types of small beetles which subsequently inhabit the flowers. As the flower ages the male portion matures and sheds pollen which coats the beetles living within the flower. When the flower reaches a certain age the stigma dries out and the beetle emerges from the flower covered with pollen and moves to another flower, just beginning to open.

This pollen enriched migration results in the pollenization of the next, newly opening flower. To improve fruit set your annonas you should provide lots of rotting organic material which will attract these beetles. Other varieties of annonas which grow well in Florida are the custard apple or Annona reticulate, Ilama (Annona diversifolia), the Guanabana (Annona muricata) and the Rollinia (Rollinia deliciosa).

The custard apple is a variety of annona which bears fruit that ripens during the winter time. It is a vigorous growing evergreen tree and unlike other varieties of annona it is not deciduous. The fruit of the custard apple is not bad, but it suffers from the presence of gritty stone cells.

The Ilama on the other hand has a sweet, smooth delicious tasting fruit with a similar consistency to the atemoya or cherimoya. Guanabanas are widely used in the commercial production of fruit juices and are not suitable for eating out of hand as the flesh is quite fibrous. Annona muricata is a bushy, very evergreen tree which is fast growing.

The fruit of the guanabana tree have an unusual spiky exterior and can become very large. A highly productive annona that produces fruit year round is the Rollinia (Biriba). This tree is a native of northern South America and goes from seed to fruit in just a few years.

The fruits can become quite large and have a spiky appearance, almost like a Durian. Rollinias are an evergreen tree with a tricuspid type of flower, similar to the pond apple. Some people derisively refer to the Rollinia as a “snot apple” due to the mucous like consistency of the fruit if allowed to over ripen.

If picked and eaten at the right time they are pleasantly refreshing and lack the gritty stone cells present in other annonas.