Warmed by the ocean and never subjected to winter cold that plummets south from North American, the Caribbean islands boast fruit trees not usually grown in other tropical areas like Africa, southern Asia and even Brazil. These plants tolerate the seasonal dryness of winter and rocky, often alkaline island soils as well as annual bouts with tropical storms and occasional hurricanes.
Star apple (Chrysophyllum cainito), known as caimito or estrella in Spanish, matures 25 to 100 feet tall. Although once regarded native to Central America, Purdue University researchers note that its true origins are the West Indies. The round fruits look like plums, either purple to green in colour and feeling rubbery when ripe. Cut open the star apple and eat the pale, milky sweet flesh, spitting out the rubbery seeds.
A fast growing herb, not truly a tree since it lacks bark and cambium, is the papaya or pawpaw (Carica papaya). Easily growing 12 to 20 feet tall with a spiralling canopy of star-shaped leaves, the papaya fruits develop on the upper parts of the stem trunk. Once the football-sized fruits ripen, their greenish skin hints of yellow-orange. The flesh inside is sweet and golden orange and the core is a collection of many slimy black seeds.
Tolerant of the rocky, seasonal dry soils of the Caribbean islands, sapodilla (Manilkara zapota) grows very slowly to 70 to 100 feet tall and equally as wide. Tiny white flowers in spring become tennis-ball-sized golden brown fruits with a rough texture. the sweet, tan flesh is gritty and sweet with milky sap tasting of pea and caramel. Sapodilla tree's latex that oozes from cut branches and leaves is what is known as chicle -- the chewy component of chewing gum.
Native only to the western islands of the Caribbean and then into Central America, mammey sapote or mammey apple (Mammea americana) becomes a large evergreen tree 40 to 60 feet in height. White flowers with large central tufts of golden stamens appear on the branches in spring and summer followed by round, brown and leathery skinned fruits by autumn. The flesh is juicy and orange with large seeds embedded and tastes like milky apricots according to Margaret Barwick, author of "Tropical and Subtropical Trees."
English-speakers better know this Caribbean native fruit as soursop. Guanabana (Annona muricata) grows 10 to 20 feet tall, bears evergreen leaves and blooms in late winter and early spring with tiny greenish yellow flowers, attracting butterflies according to Albrecht Llamas. By summer, the irregularly oval blue-green fruits ripen with flower segments remaining to make the fruit look like a round ball with leathery roof shingles. The fruit's pulp is sweetened with sugar and made into beverages and ice cream.
Closely related to guanabana is sugar apple (Annona squamosa), also called anon or sweetsop. An evergreen tree growing up to 20 feet tall, it blooms in summer with some yellow-green blooms. The heart that ensues becomes waxy and light green with overlapping segments that separate when the fruit is ripe. The pulp of sugar apple is naturally sweet (unlike guanabana) and instantly makes sweet juice or potentially frozen to make ice cream, as Albrecht Llamas writes.
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