GARDENERS FACTSHEET NO. 24
GROWING MESPLES (SAPODILLAS)
CVI Cooperative Extension Service
Of all the native tropical fruits, few are as adapted to local
climatic and soil conditions as the mesple, also known as
sapodilla. The mesple originated in Southern Mexico and Central
America but is now grown in many areas of the Tropics including
the Virgin Islands. It belongs to the botanical family Sapotaceae,
which includes other known fruits as the Star Apple caimitoo),
Mamey Sapote, and the canistel (egg fruit). Scattered local
seedling trees can be found growing in different locations of the
Virgin Islands under little or no care. This beautiful tree, in
addition to bearing a sweet pleasant edible fruit, can be used as
an ornamental, requiring little pruning and care.
The mesple is a medium to large slow-growing evergreen
tree with dense spreading canopy (Fig. I.) The bark contains a
milky latex known as chicle, which was for many years the
principle ingredient of chewing gum. The leaves are smooth,
shiny and about 2 to 5 inches long. The small white flowers are
borne singly on short pedicels in the axils of the leaves. Fruit from
different seedling trees are variable in shape and size. They may
be round, oval or conical and vary from 2 to 4 inches in diameter.
The skin is thin, brown and scurfy, flesh light brown, with smooth
to granular texture. The flesh of the better types, when thoroughly
ripe, is soft and slightly fragrant with a very sweet rich flavor. The
hard, black, shiny, flattened seeds, about 3/4 inch long, vary from
none to 12 and separate readily from the flesh.
An old USDA mesple orchard at the CVI Agricultural
Experiment Station, St. Croix, contains several cultivars which
have endured a number of years with little or no attention. Large
fruited cultivars include Prolific, Russell and Morning Star, a local
selection. These are heavy year-round bearers with sweet high
quality fruit. Other local selections are Mary s Fancy, Blackwood
and Boetzberg. Introduced cultivars include Adelaide and several
selections from Jamaica, of which J-10 appears to be the best.
SOIL AND CLIMATE
Mesple grows best on a well-drained fertile soil but is well
adapted to many soil types, including soils containing caliche
or calcium carbonate (pH 7-8) as found in many parts of the
Virgin Islands. The plant thrives in a lowland tropical climate. It
tolerates dry conditions remarkably well and is very resistant to
breakage and uprooting by strong winds. Climate conditions in
the Virgin Islands are therefore suitable for good production.
The mesple is most commonly propagated by seed.
However, because seedling trees produce fruit only after 7-10
years and are often inferior in fruit quality and productivity, it is
desirable to propagate superior selections vegetatively. Veneer
grafting has been found to be the best method of propagation,
but shield budding can also be used. The abundant flow of latex
may cause considerable difficulty in grafting, making it
necessary to work fast to prevent the latex from coagulating
around the wound. Local mesple seedlings should be used as
stock material since these seedlings are better adapted to our soil
conditions. Some success has been reported with air layering,
but this method is slow (3 to 5 months) in rooting. (See
Factsheets Nos. 12, 13, 14, 15.)
In the Virgin Islands it is preferable to plant at the
beginning of the rainy season, in September, so trees will
become established before the dry season. Trees can be planted
anytime of the year if irrigation water is available. The use of
well-rotted compost or manure mixed with the soil in a planting
hole prepared large enough to accommodate root development is
recommended especially for the clay loam soils generally found
in the Virgin Islands. Maintaining a heavy mulch around the
young trees and frequent watering until they are established is
also essential. A spacing of 30 ft. x 30 ft. is optimum for grafted
Mesple is not demanding in its fertilizer requirements. Newly
planted trees need small applications to become established.
During the first year applications should be made every three
months beginning with 1/4 pound and gradually increasing to
one pound. Thereafter, 2 applications per year are sufficient, in
Fig 2. Fruit being held in the photo has lost the "needle" at its
apex, which is a good indicator of maturity.
amounts proportionate to the increasing size of the tree. Fertilizer
mixtures containing 6 to 8% nitrogen, 6 to 8% available
phosphorus and 6 to 8% potash will give good results.
The mesple is one of the few relatively pest-free fruit trees.
Insects and diseases usually do not cause sufficient damage to
necessitate control measures. Several scale insects may infest
mesple, causing development of black sooty mold on leaves. If
this becomes widespread it can be controlled by oil sprays.
Grafted mesple begin to fruit about 3-4 years after planting.
Greatest production occurs during summer months, but some fruit
is produced throughout the year. When fruit reaches maximum
size, it may be picked and allowed to ripen off the tree. However, a
major difficulty in harvesting mesple is to know when maximum
size or maturity has been attained. The needle (remnants of a
persistent flower style) at the apex (lower end of the fruit) of some
cultivars drop at full maturity and this is a good indicator, (Fig. 2.).
By experience, one will be able to judge maturity of fruit of a
particular cultivar by its size and appearance. Fruits are picked by
tipping them sharply sidewise or upward or the fruit stem may be
cut with clippers. Picker-poles are used to remove fruit from the
tops of all trees. Young bearing trees are known to bear 400-5 00
fruits in a normal year, while mature thirty-year-old trees may be
expected to yield 2,500-3,000 fruits per annum.
The mesple is used mainly as a fresh fruit in the Virgin
Islands. The unripe fruit is astringent due to the presence of
tannins which disappear almost entirely upon ripening. Flavor is
improved by chilling softened fruits in a refrigerator before eating.
There is a great potential for exporting sapodillas to the
providing harvesting and ripening problems can be overcome. In
other areas, the fruit is used in jams, sherbets, ice cream, dilly rice
and custards. Also, the fruit may be crushed and the juice boiled
down to make a natural syrup or "honey". For additional
information on production and marketing ofmesple. please
contact your local Extension office. The Cooperative Extension
Service has offices on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John.
MESPLE CREAM SHERBERT
1 cup mesple puree % pint light cream
1 cup sugar sprinkle of salt
2 cup milk 1 tsp. lemon juice, if desired
Use ripe mesples which are slightly soft. Mixsugar, sapodilla puree
and lemon juice. Gradually add mixture to cream and milk. Freeze.
Mesples vary in sugar content; if you are using very sweet fruit,
use less sugar than is listed in recipe.
1%1 cups milk
1 % cups pureed mesple
3 tbsp. brown sugar
C tsp. salt
Scald milk, then combine all ingredients and mix weil. Pour into
buttered custard cups and set in a shallow pan of hot water. Bake
at 325 degrees for 30 minutes or until done. Garnish with 1 tsp.
carissa jelly. Serve warm.
3 cups cooked rice
3 tbsp. crystallized lemon I
2 tbsp. crystallized ginger
1 tbsp. water
Cut mesples into 1 inch pieces. Cut ginger and lemon peel into
Combine all ingredients in saucepan and heat until steaming hot.
MESPLE ICE CREAM
1%1 cup pureed mesple
3A cup milk
1 cup whipped cream
% cup sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice, if desired
Mesples used in this recipe should be slightly soft. Mixsugarwith
the pureed mesple. Add lemon juice, then milk. Fold in whipped
cream and freeze.
4 tbsp. butter
2 cups milk
1 cup sapodilla pulp
b cups sugar
1%1 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
C tsp. baking soda
pinch of cinnamon
Creambutter and sugar. Combine flour and baking powder. Add to
sugar mixture alternately with the milk. Mix soda-and sapodilla
pulp. Add to mixture. Add cinnamon. Mix well and bake in slow
over for one hour.
Products and suppliers mentioned by name in this publication are used as examples and in no way imply endorsement or recommendation of these products or suppers
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914 (as amended), in cooperation with the U S Department of Agriculture, D S Padda, Director,
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