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AMAZING ATEMOYA: Exotic and delicious fruit grows in our region

Mar 09, 2021 08:55PM ● By ERIK ENTWISTLE

Perhaps you have a favorite exotic fruit, and remember when and where you first tried it. Chances are you didn’t find it at a typical grocery store—because issues of supply and storage mean that many of the world’s most interesting and flavorful fruits never find their way into a supermarket.

Fortunately, here in Southwest Florida, we can grow some of the most unique and delicious fruits available. You will be able to locate some of them in limited supply at our local farmers markets when in season, such as longan, jackfruit, egg fruit and black sapote. But other fruits you will just have to grow on your own—or become very friendly with a generous neighbor who does.

A perfect example of an amazing exotic fruit you can grow in your own backyard is the atemoya. It is a hybrid of the sugar-apple (Annona squamosa), which can also be grown in Southwest Florida, and the cherimoya (Annona cherimola).

The flavor and texture of atemoya are very similar to cherimoya, an indescribably delicious fruit that I first encountered at a farmers market in Santa Barbara, California, where I resided for several years as a post-graduate student. We are not able to grow cherimoya in Southwest Florida because the fruit needs higher elevations and cannot withstand the summer heat, but atemoya is a more-than-adequate substitute!

According to the website of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, “Atemoya trees are not common in the home landscape. However, due to their superior cold tolerance and excellent fruit quality, atemoya trees should be more widely planted in south Florida.”

If you want to grow atemoya, visiting that helpful URL is a must:

The information also contains a handy chart of monthly care that is suggested to keep your tree healthy and producing fruit.

We planted a tree of the Geffner variety of atemoya here on Sanibel Island several years ago, which is the cultivar currently most recommended for the Southwest Florida region. Our tree grew quickly in an area protected from wind and in full sun, which it requires.

With its sprawling growth habit, the need for pruning became immediately apparent—long branches were shooting haphazardly in all directions. Pruning is easily done at the end of the winter when the leaves have since dropped from the tree, and before new growth starts to occur. Keeping the tree at a manageable size ensures that the ripening fruits remain within reach.

The tree will set fruit on its own, although those who want to try labor-intensive hand pollination may be rewarded with a heavier fruit set. Fruit ripens in the fall, typically from September to November.

It can be difficult to determine when a fruit is ready to harvest, since they tend to vary in size. Pick too early and they might not soften properly (the fruit yields to gentle pressure when ready to eat). Wait too long and they’ll drop to the ground—where rats, ants, etc., will find them. We have rescued quite a few fruits that fell to the ground.

It’s really fun to grow something as unique as an atemoya, which tastes so delicious. And because it grows so quickly, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts within just a couple of years. If you have the sun and the space, give one a try!

Pianist, instructor and musicologist Erik Entwistle lives and teaches on Sanibel Island. He writes the Stay Tuned column for TOTI Media. A favorite hobby is growing vegetables and fruit using sustainable gardening methods.