Pouteria sapota (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Pouteria sapota (Jacq.) H.E. Moore & Stearn

Protologue: Taxon 16: 383 (1967).
Family: Sapotaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= probably 26


  • Lucuma mammosa (L.) Gaertn.f. (1807),
  • Calocarpum sapota (Jacq.) Merr. (1923).

Vernacular names

  • Mamey sapote, sapote (En)
  • Sapotier (Fr)
  • Indonesia: ciko mama
  • Malaysia: chico-mamey
  • Philippines: chico-mamey
  • Vietnam: tru'ng g<a->.

Origin and geographic distribution

The mamey sapote occurs wild in the humid lowlands of Central America and southern Mexico. It is of very ancient cultivation and was an important fruit in Mayan culture. It is now widely cultivated from Mexico to northern South America and the West Indies. It was taken at an early date to the Philippines and later to Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Mamey sapote has been grown in Florida (United States) for at least a century. In the Philippines it is mainly planted in Cavite and Laguna in Luzon.


The smooth, slightly chewy flesh of the fruit is eaten fresh out of the hand, or spooned out of the firm rind, often after adding a few drops of lemon juice. It is preserved in various ways and makes very good ice cream and sherbets. In Vietnam it is eaten when very ripe.

In Central America the mamey sapote has many other uses. It is used as a shade tree for coffee since it loses its leaves when coffee needs ample sunlight. Its heartwood, which is easy to work and fairly durable, is used in construction and for making carts and furniture. The milky sap from the bark and green fruit is irritant to the eyes, and caustic and vesicant to the skin. It is used as an anthelminthic and emetic, to remove warts, and to cure fungal skin infections.

The seeds contain a white semi-solid oil called sapuyulo or zapoyola, which was formerly used to fix paintings on gourds and other handicrafts. It is still used as a sedative in ear and eye ailments, and as a skin tonic and hair revitalizer. Its effect in stopping loss of hair caused by seborrhoeic-dermatitis has been confirmed in clinical tests. The oil is said to have potential in the soap industry and in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. The seed residue is used as a poultice on skin afflictions. In Mexico the seeds are milled and used in a number of confectioneries and, alone or with cacao, to prepare a bitter chocolate.

Production and international trade

No information on production is available. The fruit is popular in Central America, but little known in South-East Asia. Several small orchards have been planted in Queensland, Australia. There is some trade between the Caribbean and Florida (United States) to serve the large Cuban community. Very small quantities occasionally reach Europe.


The fruit has a pleasant, aromatic sweet taste and is free of acidity and fibre. Per 100 g edible portion it contains: water 55-73 g, protein 1-2 g, fat 0.1-0.5 g, carbohydrates 26-32 g, fibre 1-3 g, calcium 20-40 mg, iron 0.5-2 mg, phosphorus 23-33 mg, vitamin C 20-40 mg. The energy value is 525 kJ/100 g. The heartwood is buff to brown, turning reddish with age, fine-grained, compact and strong.


  • Erect evergreen or deciduous tree, 7-20(-40) m tall, trunk up to 1 m diameter, often narrowly buttressed, bark brownish and shaggy, crown narrow or spreading, often strongly branched; latex white, gummy.
  • Leaves spirally arranged, clustered at the end of branches; petiole 2-5 cm long; blade obovate to oblanceolate, 10-30 cm × 4-10 cm, acuminate at both ends, glabrescent, pale brownish below, nerves prominent at both sides.
  • Flowers in clusters of 6-15 in the axils of fallen leaves along the branches, subsessile, bisexual, white to pale-yellow, small, 5-merous; calyx with 8-12 silky, rounded lobes, 5 mm long; corolla tubular and with 5 blunt lobes; stamens 5, staminodes 5; pistil 8-10 mm long, ovary 5-celled.
  • Fruit a globose, ovoid or ellipsoid berry, 8-20 cm long, often bluntly pointed at apex, weighing 0.25-2.5 kg; skin dark-brown, rough, firm, leathery to semi-woody, up to 1.5 mm thick; flesh pinkish to dark-red, soft, sweet.
  • Seeds 1(-4), spindle-shaped, 5-8 cm long, hard, glossy brown; hilum rough, large, whitish; kernel oily, bitter.

Growth and development

The mamey sapote is a slow growing tree, coming into production 6-8 years after planting when raised from seed. Trees may continue to produce for over 100 years. The tree has a characteristic habit with tiers of bare branches with tufts of leaves at the tip. Flowers are borne on branch portions which have already shed their leaves. The habit - closely conforming to Rauh's architectural model - results from rhythmic growth of compact shoots, emergence of laterals close together in the uppermost leaf axils of the previous flush and loss of older leaves. Fruits take about a year to mature, and young and ripening fruits can sometimes be seen on the same tree.

Other botanical information

Much confusion exists about the correct scientific names for the mamey sapote and the sapodilla. The plants themselves can easily be distinguished: the sapodilla has (narrowly) elliptic leaves, pedicels 1.5-2 cm long, sepals 6, fruits 5-8 cm long, seeds up to 2 cm long; the mamey sapote has larger, oblanceolate leaves, pedicels up to 4 mm long, sepals 8-12, fruits 8-20 cm long, seeds up to 8 cm long. The confusion started with Linnaeus (1753), whose name Achras zapota L. was based on a mixture of illustrations and descriptions of both species. Disputes over the correct genus concept add to the confusion. The position now is that Achras zapota L. is the correct name for the sapodilla, unless - as we do here - a wider genus concept is adopted, resulting in the name Manilkara zapota (L.) P. van Royen. Similarly the mamey sapote is named Calocarpum sapota (Jacq.) Merr. under the narrow genus concept, and Pouteria sapota (Jacq.) H.E. Moore & Stearn under the wider genus concept.

Many cultivars of the mamey sapote exist, e.g. "Cayo Hueso" (Dominican Republic), favoured by the Cubans. "Copan" (Cuba), medium size fruit with red flesh, excellent quality, containing 1 seed; in Florida a deciduous spreading tree. "Magana" (El Salvador), very large fruits with pink flesh of excellent quality, containing 1 seed; in Florida an evergreen tree, small, slow-growing but producing well. Other cultivars include "Mayapan" and "Tazumal".


The mamey sapote is best adapted to the lowland humid tropics with a fairly even distribution of rainfall. It requires a hot climate, but mature trees tolerate occasional, very light frost. Leaves turn red at low temperatures and are shed during prolonged cold periods. Young trees may die during cold spells. The tree is rarely planted above 1000 m altitude. Even short dry periods may cause shedding of leaves. It grows well on a wide range of soils, on heavy clays in Puerto Rico, sandy clays in Guatemala and light limestone soils in Florida (United States). Waterlogging is not tolerated.


The mamey sapote is mostly grown from seed which take 3-5 weeks to germinate. Seeds lose viability quickly and must be planted soon after removal from the fruit. Vegetative propagation - by grafting - is difficult, mainly because of poor drought tolerance and limited callus growth of the scion. However, successful methods have been developed: veneer, tip and approach grafting are now done routinely. Graftwood should be taken from branches which have flowered. Lateral buds are forced by cutting the leafy shoot tip off and waiting for 2 weeks before cutting the scion wood. Alternatively the scion wood is cut, defoliated and stored, and wrapped in a damp cloth until the lateral buds swell. When grafting, the rootstock should be cut twice, the second time after the latex flow has stopped. The graft tape is not removed until the first leaves on the scion have matured and the union itself remains covered until the scion shows adequate vigour. The canistel (Pouteria campechiana (Kunth) Baehni) can be used as an alternative rootstock.

The recommended spacing is 8m × 8m, but planting densities vary from 80 to 160 trees per ha depending on growing conditions and cultivar. Planting holes should be large and well-manured.


Trees do not require elaborate care. Initial shade, mulch and a cover crop are beneficial. Application of a balanced compound fertilizer is recommended when the tree is fruiting. Some pruning is often needed to open up compactly growing trees; in fast-growing cultivars, topping facilitates harvesting.

Diseases and pests

Few diseases and insects attack the mamey sapote and damage is rarely significant. During the rainy season, anthracnose (Colletotrichum gloeosporioides) causes sooty spots on leaves and pedicels. If the latter are affected, the fruit is likely to drop prematurely. Mature fruits are not affected. Other diseases reported are leaf-spot (Phyllosticta sapotae), black leaf-spot (Phyllachora sp.) and root rot (Pythium sp.). Among insect pests the West Indian sugarcane stalk borer (Diaprepes abbreviatus), the adults of which attack the leaves and the larvae the roots, should be mentioned. Scale insects, termites and red spider mites are other common pests.


It is not easy to determine the best time for harvesting. In some cases fruits can be picked when they start turning red, in others samples have to be taken to judge the colour of the flesh. The fruiting season in the Philippines is March to May. Fruits should not be picked when the shoots are actively growing, as they will not ripen completely. In tall trees harvesting poles and baskets are used. After picking, the stalk is trimmed and fruits are packed in boxes or baskets. The fruit is climacteric and mature fruits take a few days to ripen.

Genetic resources and breeding

A number of selections have been made in Cuba, Central America and Florida, providing a wide range of fruit size, flavour, time to maturity, tree size and cold tolerance.


The development of methods of vegetative propagation and the consequent shortening of the period until grafted trees come into bearing has greatly increased the popularity of the mamey sapote in Florida (United States). As the fruit also travels well, it may become more popular in the Philippines and the rest of South-East Asia.


  • Almeyda, N. & Martin, F.W., 1979. Mamey sapote. Neglected fruit with much promise. World Farming 21: 12-15.
  • Buisson, D., 1986. Analyse architecturale de quelques espèces d'arbres fruitiers tropicaux. Fruits 41: 477-498.
  • Campbell, C.W. & Lara, S.P., 1982. Mamey sapote cultivars in Florida. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 95: 114-115.
  • Moore, H.E. & Stearn, W.T., 1967. The identity of Achras zapota L. and the names for the sapodilla and the sapote. Taxon 16: 382-395.
  • Ogden, M.A.H., Campbell, C.W. & Lara, S.P., 1984. Juvenile interstocks for topworking mamey sapote (Calocarpum sapota). Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 97: 357-358.
  • Quilantan Carreon, J., 1979. Propagacion vegetativa del zapote mamey. [Vegetative propagation of the mamey sapote]. Proceedings of the Tropical Region, American Society for Horticultural Science 23: 180-182.


L.P.A. Oyen