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Cherimoya (photo courtesy of Pam Peirce/Susan A. Roth & Co.)
Cherimoya (photo courtesy of Pam Peirce/Susan A. Roth & Co.)

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Zone
Zones 21-24, H1, H2
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate
Toxicity
toxic seeds cause gastric upset

Cherimoya, Custard Apple


Deciduous, Edible fruit, Trees

Native to the high-elevation American tropics, this small tree (Annona cherimola) yields yellow-green fruits whose custardy flesh tastes like pineapple crossed with banana. Hardy to about 25°F (–4°C). Grows fast the first 3 to 4 years, then slows, eventually forming a tree 12–15 ft. tall and wide, or 30 ft. unpruned. Leaves are 4–10 in. long, dull green above, velvety-hairy beneath; they drop in late spring, but the tree quickly replaces them. Thick, fleshy, 1-in., hairy brownish or yellow flowers with a fruity fragrance open for 3 to 4 months beginning around leaf drop.

Large fruits weigh 1/2–1 1/2 lb., and trees can bear 25 to 100 fruits per year. Harvest fruit in late fall or winter, when it turns yellowish green. Thin, tender skin of most varieties resembles short overlapping leaves of artichokes; can be warty. Let fruit mature indoors at room temperature; when ripe, it turns a dull brownish green (some varieties show tan freckles) and yields to gentle pressure like a ripe peach. Refrigerate ripe fruit, which tastes best cold. Creamy white flesh contains large black seeds and is almost custardlike; eat it with a spoon. Specialty nurseries offer several improved varieties, including exceptionally flavorful ‘El Bumpo’, ‘Honeyhart’, ‘Pierce’, ‘McPherson’ (self-fruitful), and ‘Sabor’ (best flavor) in California. In Hawaii, where cherimoyas grow best above 1,000 ft., ‘McPherson’ (also sold as ‘Spain’) is the best choice.

Locate tree where you can enjoy the fragrance. After 4 or 5 years, begin pruning yearly to produce fruiting wood.

To ensure fruit set, gather freshly opened flowers and place in a small jar. Keep in a cool place 12 to 24 hours, by which time the pollen will shed. Use a small paintbrush to pollinate freshly opened flowers.

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