Mamey Sapote: A Giant Tropical Berry Treat

Mamey sapote, the national fruit of Cuba, is a tropical fruit that is popular in Central America and the Caribbean. It is also grown in the United States in temperate areas of South Florida, California, Texas, and Hawaii. Although it is more common in South Florida, mamey sapote is hard to find in other areas of the United States. You probably won’t be able to find them in the produce section at the grocery store.

If you live in USDA zone 9-11 and have enough space, you can grow mamey sapote at home! It is tolerant of many soil types and will produce up to 200-500 fruits per year at maturity. The mamey sapote fruit has a smooth, creamy texture and the flavor is compared to sweet potato, pumpkin, and sweetened almonds. The fruit can be eaten raw, but it is often used to make smoothies and ice creams. 

Mamey is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. It is a great vegetarian source of iron and it is considered to be a heart healthy food that promotes cardiovascular health and healthy cholesterol levels. 

Once planted, the mamey sapote is there to stay as they are known to live up to 100 years!

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Quick Care Guide

Mamey Sapote
A mamey sapote fruit is a giant tropical berry. Source: John Loo
Common Name(s)Mamey, sapote, mamey sapote, Mamey Colorado
Scientific NamePouteria sapota
Days to Harvest13-24 months
LightFull sun, 8+ hours
Water:Regular watering; keep soil moist, but not overly wet.
SoilTolerant of most soils; prefers clay loam soils.
Fertilizer2x per year in the spring and early fall
PestsDiaprepes weevil, red spider mites, scale insects
DiseasesAnthracnose, root rot (pythium and rhizoctonia)

All About Mamey Sapote

The mamey sapote tree, Pouteria sapota, is also commonly referred to as a mamey or sapote tree. Mamey sapote originates from Central America but has become popular in many tropical areas especially the Caribbean. The term “sapote” originates from the word “tzapotl” which means “edible fruit” in Nahuatl, an Aztecan language.

Pouteria sapota is a large, evergreen tree with thick branches and dense foliage. The leaves are large, green, lanceolate, and concentrated at the tips of the branches. At maturity, the tree will grow around 40 feet in height and can grow more than 60 feet in optimal conditions. Fortunately, the tree can be pruned to maintain an appropriate size for its planting location.

The flowers and fruit grow in clusters on leafless branches. The white to green flowers are small and inconspicuous. The color and shape of the fruit are similar to a coconut. However, the inside is very different. The flesh of the mamey fruit is a beautiful orange to red color. The size of the fruit varies depending on the variety but ranges from 4.5-8 inches in diameter. Each fruit weighs between 0.75 and 6 lbs and contains one to three large seeds in the middle. 

Mamey sapote is a tropical plant, so it requires warm temperatures and plenty of water. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and grows well in areas with an average of 70 inches (178 cm) of rainfall. Since the fruits take a long time to develop, it is common to see flowers, developing fruit, and mature fruit growing on the tree at the same time.

Planting

Mamey seed sprouting
Each mamey fruit has one large seed. This one is sprouting. Source: Eric Weisser

Pouteria sapota is most commonly planted as a grafted tree. It is possible to plant from seed. However, the seed must be planted shortly after harvest or else viability is lost. Trees planted from seed also take 7-10 years before producing fruit versus 3-5 years with a grafted tree.

The best time to plant is in the spring when there is adequate rainfall to establish a young tree. Avoid planting in the winter since Pouteria sapota is sensitive to cold temperatures. If there is occasional frost, it’s recommended to plant in a large pot that can be moved or protected during a frost event.

Choose a sunny location with at least 20-30 feet of space between nearby trees and structures. For the tree to thrive, it needs at least eight hours of direct sunlight each day.

When planting the mamey sapote, dig a hole that is three times the diameter and depth of the root ball. Place the soil around the root system and mound the soil surrounding the trunk about four inches higher than ground level.

In many areas of Florida, the water table is within seven feet. If you live in an area with a shallow water table, plant the tree on an elevated mound. Although mamey sapote trees require constant moisture, they do not tolerate persistently saturated conditions. These conditions will result in the tree developing root rot.

Care

Pouteria sapota is fairly easy to care for. Proper care is important to maintain a healthy tree that will return high fruit yields year after year. 

Sun and Temperature

Mamey sapote tree
A mamey tree can get huge, reaching 80 feet or taller in height. Source: I likE plants!

Pouteria sapota requires full sun for at least 8+ hours per day. Insufficient light will compromise fruit yield.

These trees are hardy to USDA zones 9-11, so they are not frost-tolerant. Young trees are vulnerable to damage if the temperature drops below 32℉. Mature trees can handle temperatures below 32℉ for several hours with very little damage. Below 22℉, the tree will die. The optimal average temperature is between 77℉ and 82℉. These trees are known to thrive in climates in Central America that also reach 90-95℉.

Water and Humidity

The best time to water is in the early morning. This will prevent water from evaporating too quickly and it allows the plant and the soil to absorb the moisture. Watering in the evening sometimes allows for stagnant water which can promote diseases.

Young trees should be watered immediately after planting and every other day for the first month or two. In general, mature trees should be watered about every five days with one inch of water if there is not sufficient rainfall. However, soil type will play a big role in determining how often and how long to water. For example, if you have clay soil, you will need to apply more water less often than you would sandy soil. This is because the water holding capacity of clay soil is greater than sandy soil.

Soaker hoses and sprinklers can both be used to irrigate. Typically, it takes 200 minutes to apply an inch of water using a soaker hose. Sprinklers have much more variability, so a rain gauge should be used to determine the appropriate length of time. Irrigation is not needed if there is at least one inch of rainfall throughout the week. During cooler months, irrigation frequency can also be scaled back to avoid overwatering.

Soil

Pouteria sapota grows best in clay loam soil with good drainage. However, it is tolerant of moist soil types as long as there is adequate drainage. Ideal pH is between 6.0 and 7.0 but tolerates a wider range.

Fertilizing

Fertilize twice per year in the spring and early fall using an 8-3-9 fertilizer formula. Depending on the soil, zinc and manganese deficiencies may occur. If there are deficiencies, foliar sprays are recommended every 6 weeks between March and September. Iron deficiency is also common and can be remediated by applying a chelated iron once or twice a year through a soil drench.

Pruning

Pruning should be done during the warmer months after fruit harvest. Young trees can be pruned to encourage 3-4 large branches. Mature trees should be pruned to maintain an appropriate size.

Before pruning, search for flowers and young fruit at the base of the branches to avoid accidental removal of developing fruit. If fruits are not picked, they will drop naturally after ripening.

Propagation

Mamey plants can be propagated by seed and grafting.

Trees propagated from seed take many years to produce fruit. The fruit characteristics are also unknown and there are some cases in which the seed propagated trees will not produce fruit. Seed should only be used to grow rootstocks that will later be grafted with a known variety.

Grafted trees are the most reliable source because the characteristics are known and they produce fruit years faster than trees propagated from seed. 

Harvesting and Storing

Ripe mamey sapote
A ripe mamey sapote tastes like a mix of pumpkin, sweet potato, and almond. Source: I likE plants!

Now for the best part, harvesting and storing the delicious mamey fruit!

Harvesting

Eventually, the ripe fruit will fall off the tree naturally. However, the fall will most likely damage the fruit. To pick the fruit, simply twist the fruit off the branches. Harvesting season will vary depending on the variety, but most varieties will be ready for harvest between April and September. 

The easiest way to determine the right time to pick a mamey sapote is by scratching the skin of the fruit and checking the color. If the flesh is green in color, the fruit is not ready. If the flesh is orange, red or pink, the fruit is ready to pick.

The fruit will still feel firm so it’s important to expose the fruit to room temperature for a couple of days for it to fully ripen. Ripeness is recognized the same way you would an avocado. Squeeze the fruit lightly. If there is a slight give, then the fruit is ripe and ready to eat.

Keep in mind the fruit takes 13 months to two years to develop. Patience is the key to harvesting good fruit. 

Storing

Fruit can be stored fresh in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. For longer storage, cut the fruit into chunks and freeze it. Frozen fruit can later be used in smoothie and ice cream recipes. The fruit can also be freeze-dried to make a crunchy snack with a long shelf life.

Troubleshooting

Young mamey fruit forming
Mamey sapote loves warm, tropical climates. Source: mmmavocado

Even though Pouteria sapota is fairly easy to grow, that doesn’t mean you won’t run into difficulties. Below are a few problems that you may face and potential solutions!

Growing Problems

Proper irrigation is key to growing a healthy tree. Underwatering can cause defoliation and fruit drop. Lack of water and nutrition will also cause low fruit production.

Temperatures below freezing can also injure or kill trees. Young trees are particularly susceptible to cold temperatures.

Pests

The Diaprepes weevil (Diaprepes abbreviatus) is a root weevil found in Florida and the Caribbean. Adults feed on the leaves while the larvae feed on the roots. Adults range from 3/8 to 3/4 inch in length. They are black with red, orange, or yellow scales on the elytra. Larvae are white grubs that reach a length of about 1 inch. Heavy infestations may cause severe decline or death. Beneficial nematodes can be applied to the soil to control larvae. Horticultural oils can be sprayed to kill eggs and prevent females from laying eggs on the leaves.

Red spider mites (Tetranychus bimaculatus) may infest the leaves causing stippling damage. Mites are extremely small, so the damage may be noticeable before the pest is detected. Severe infestations may cause defoliation. Mites can be controlled biologically using predatory mites such as Phytoseiulus persimilis. Horticultural oils will also effectively control mite populations.

There are various types of scale insects that will infest mamey trees. Scales are most commonly found on branches and twigs. Damage from scales is usually very minimal. Most scales will be controlled by natural predators as long as ant populations are under control. Ants collect honeydew from scales, so they will physically protect scales from predators. Horticultural oils are also proven to be effective in controlling scale insects.

Diseases

The most significant disease problems that can occur are root rots caused by Pythium and Rhizoctonia. Both diseases can be prevented or resolved with proper irrigation practices. These diseases occur when the tree is being overwatered. The first indicator that there is a root issue is a general decline in vigor and fruit production. Confirm the diagnosis by digging to check the moisture of the soil and the health of the roots. If the soil is saturated and the roots are brown and brittle, the tree is suffering from root rot.

Anthracnose can also be a problem during the rainy season. This disease causes damage to young tender tissues like flowers and new leaves. Damage usually does not require treatment and will go away on its own once conditions dry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Mamey fruit underneath
Each mamey fruit can reach up to 5lbs in weight. Source: ehfisher

Q: What does a mamey sapote taste like?

A: The flavor of mamey sapote is compared to sweet potato, pumpkin, and sweetened almonds.

Q: How do you eat mamey sapote?

A: Mamey sapote can be eaten fresh or it can be added to smoothies, ice cream, and other sweet recipes.

Q: Is mamey fruit related to avocado?

A: Even though there are some similarities, mamey sapote is not related to avocado.


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