Chrysophyllum cainito

Common name: Star apple

Other common names: Star plum

Names in non-English languages: Philippines Malaysia

Description

Star Apple is a fruiting tree originating from the Caribbean, its natural range extending along the chain of islands from Cuba, through the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Hispaniola to Puerto Rico.

It may reach heights of up to 30 m (100 ft) in its natural forest habitat, though it is more commonly 15 to 20 m (50 to 65 ft) tall. On open sites, it develops a short trunk and a densely branched rounded crown of wide-spreading branches that droop at the end, giving a slightly weeping appearance. The bark is dark brown, rough and fissured.

Leaves oval to elliptical, 7 to 16 cm (2.8 to 6.3 in) long, dark lacquered green on the surface and copper-brown underneath, their contrasting colouration adding visual interest to the tree. They remain on the tree in areas where the dry season is short but fall to the ground where it is long and pronounced.

Flowers tiny, purplish or greenish and bisexual, having both female and male parts. Flowering appears to be associated with decreasing day length that extends from late summer to late autumn or early winter. 

The fruit ripen around three to four months after fruit-set, usually from winter to late spring or early summer in its native range. They are round, about the size of a tennis ball, sometimes larger and come in smooth, purple or green skinned varieties. A star-shaped pattern is revealed when it is cut in half crosswise, which has led to both the fruit and tree being named 'Star apple'. The seed are largish, dark brown and glossy.

Use

The tree is cultivated primarily for its fruit, which are eaten fresh out-of-hand or in fruit salads. The fruit is usually cut in half and the sweet, white, soft jelly-like pulp scooped out with a spoon, avoiding taking any of the pulp that is close to the rind, as this has a sticky latex, especially in fruit that are not fully ripe. The fruit do not continue to ripen after being harvested, so are best left on the tree until they ripen fully.

The leaves with their contrasting colouration adds ornamental interest in gardens and their dense arrangement gives shade from the sun.

The tree produces a medium-weight wood, averaging around 700 kg per cubic meter, with low natural resistance to decay. This puts it in the non-durable hardwood class, limiting its suitability for any outdoor or in-ground construction work. When available, it is mostly used for turnery and occasionally for making furniture and cabinets.

Climate

Grows and fruits naturally in moderately humid subtropical and tropical lowland climates, generally frost-free areas with annual lows of 15 to 25 °C, annual highs of 25 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 900 to 3000 mm and a dry season of 3 to 6 months.

Although Star Apple trees also grow well in wetter climates with no dry season, flowering is usually poor due to fungal attack, resulting in low fruit production. As well, the trees may fail to produce flavoursome fruit in areas where the average low of the warmest month is below 21 °C (70 °F).

Growing

New plants are usually started from seed. It performs best on free-draining loam, sandy-loam and loamy-sand soils of a moderately acid to alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 5.0 to 8.0 and on sites with full to partial sun exposure.

Problem features

Star Apple is listed as a weed in at least one reference publication, but there does not appear to be any record of it as a serious weed anywhere, despite its widespread distribution and cultivation throughout the tropics.

Where it will grow

With irrigation or groundwater

References

Books

  • Adams, C. D. 1972, Flowering plants of Jamaica, University of the West Indies, Mona, Greater Kingston

  • Chudnoff, M. 1984, Tropical timbers of the world, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington, D.C.

  • Gargiullo, M. B & Magnuson, B. L. & Kimball, Larry D. 2008, A field guide to plants of Costa Rica, Oxford University Press, Oxford

  • Janick, J., & Paull, R. E. 2008, The encyclopedia of fruit & nuts, CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

  • Jensen, M. 1999, Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia : an illustrated field guide, 2nd ed., Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP), Bangkok

  • Little, E. L. et al. 1964 and 1974, Common trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (2 volumes), Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington D.C.

  • Macmillan, H. F. 1943, Tropical planting and gardening : with special reference to Ceylon, 5th ed, Macmillan Publishing, London

  • Martin, F. M., et al. 1987, Perennial edible fruits of the tropics : an inventory, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, D.C.

  • Morton, J. F. & Dowling, C. F. 1987, Fruits of warm climates, Creative Resources Systems, Winterville, North Carolina

  • Page, P. E. 1984, Tropical tree fruits for Australia, Queensland Department of Primary Industries (QLD DPI), Brisbane

  • Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QLD DPI) 2008, Queensland tropical fruit : the healthy flavours of North Queensland, Brisbane

  • Randall, R. P. 2002, A global compendium of weeds, R.G. and F.J. Richardson Press, Melbourne

  • Randall, R. P. 2007, The introduced flora of Australia and its weed status, Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management, Glen Osmond, South Australia

  • Scheffer, T. C & Morrell, J. J. 1998, Natural durability of wood : a worldwide checklist of species, Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

  • Schubert, T. H. 1979, Trees for urban use in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station, New Orleans

  • Wilder, G. P. 1911, Fruits of the Hawaiian Islands rev. ed, Honolulu: The Hawaiian gazette co. ltd.

Articles, Journals, Reports and Working Papers

  • Subhadrabandhu, S. 2001, Under-utilized tropical fruits of Thailand, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAPA), Bangkok

  • Walkar, Tad, et al. Dispersal modes of woody species from the northern Western Ghats, India. Tropical Ecology 53.1 (2012).

  • Watson, B.J., & Moncur, M. 1985, Guideline criteria for determining survival, commercial and best mean minimum July temperature for various tropical fruit in Australia (Southern Hemisphere), Department of Primary Industries Queensland (DPI QLD), Wet Tropics Regional Publication, Queensland

© All rights reserved Iplantz 2019