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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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