Certainly the most esteemed of the fruits of the genus Annona (family Annonaceae), the cherimoya, A. cherimola Mill., because of its limited distribution, has acquired few colloquial names, and most are merely local variations in spelling, such as chirimoya, cherimolia, chirimolla, cherimolier, cherimoyer. In Venezuela, it is called chirimorrinon; in Brazil, graveola, graviola, or grabiola; and in Mexico, pox or poox; in Belize, tukib; in El Salvador it is sometimes known as anona poshte; and elsewhere merely as anona, or anona blanca. In France, it is anone; in Haiti, cachiman la Chine. Indian names in Guatemala include pac, pap, tsummy and tzumux. The name, cherimoya, is sometimes misapplied to the less-esteemed custard apple, A. reticulata L. In Australia it is often applied to the atemoya (a cherimoya-sugar apple hybrid).
The tree is erect but low branched and somewhat shrubby or spreading; ranging from 16 to 30 ft (5 to 9 m) in height; and its young branchlets are rusty-hairy. The leaves are briefly deciduous (just before spring flowering), alternate, 2-ranked, with minutely hairy petioles 1/4 to 1/2 in (6 to 12.5 mm) long; ovate to elliptic or ovate-lanceolate, short blunt-pointed at the apex; slightly hairy on the upper surface, velvety on the underside; 3 to 6 in (7.5-15 cm) long, 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 in (3.8-8.9 cm) wide.
Fragrant flowers, solitary or in groups of 2 or 3, on short, hairy stalks along the branches, have 3 outer, greenish, fleshy, oblong, downy petals to 1 1/4 in (3 cm) long and 3 smaller, pinkish inner petals. A compound fruit, the cherimoya is conical or somewhat heart-shaped, 4 to 8 in (10 to 20 cm) long and up to 4 in (10 cm) in width, weighing on the average 5 1/2 to 18 oz (150-500 g) but extra large specimens may weigh 6 lbs (2.7 kg) or more. The skin, thin or thick, may be smooth with fingerprint like markings or covered with conical or rounded protuberances. The fruit is easily broken or cut open, exposing the snow-white, juicy flesh, of pleasing aroma and delicious, subacid flavor; and containing numerous hard, brown or black, beanlike, glossy seeds, 1/2 to 3/4 in (1.25 to 2 cm) long.
Origin and Distribution
The cherimoya is believed indigenous to the interandean valleys of Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia. In Bolivia, it flourishes best around Mizque and Ayopaya, in the Department of Cochabamba, and around Luribay, Sapahaqui and Rio Abajo in the Department of La Paz. Its cultivation must have spread in ancient times to Chile and Brazil for it has become naturalized in highlands throughout these countries. Many authors include Peru as a center of origin but others assert that the fruit was unknown in Peru until after seeds were sent by P. Bernabe Cobo from Guatemala in 1629 and that thirteen years after this introduction the cherimoya was observed in cultivation and sold in the markets of Lima. The often-cited representations of the cherimoya on ancient Peruvian pottery are actually images of the soursop, A. muricata L. Cobo sent seeds to Mexico also in 1629. There it thrives between 4,000 and 5,000 ft (1312-1640 m) elevations.
It is commonly grown and naturalized in temperate areas of Costa Rica and other countries of Central America. In Argentina, the cherimoya is mostly grown in the Province of Tucuman. In 1757, it was carried to Spain where it remained a dooryard tree until the 1940’s and 1950’s when it gained importance in the Province of Granada, in the Sierra Nevada mountains, as a replacement for the many orange trees that succumbed to disease and had to be taken out. By 1953, there were 262 acres (106 ha) of cherimoyas in this region.
In 1790 the cherimoya was introduced into Hawaii by Don Francisco de Paulo Marin. It is still casually grown in the islands and naturalized in dry upland forests. In 1785, it reached Jamaica, where it is cultivated and occurs as an escape on hillsides between 3,500 and 5,000 ft (1,066-1,524 m). It found its way to Haiti sometime later. The first planting in Italy was in 1797 and it became a favored crop in the Province of Reggio Calabria. The tree has been tried several times in the Botanic Gardens, Singapore first around 1878—but has always failed to survive because of the tropical climate. In the Philippines, it does well in the Mountain Province at an altitude above 2,460 ft (750 m). It was introduced into India and Ceylon in 1880 and there is small-scale culture in both countries at elevations between 1,500 and 7,000 ft (457-2,134 m). The tree was planted in Madeira in 1897, then in the Canary Islands, Algiers, Egypt and, probably via Italy, in Libya, Eritrea and Somalia.
The United States Department of Agriculture imported a number of lots of cherimoya seeds from Madeira in 1907 (S.P.I. Nos. 19853, 19854, 19855, 19898, 19901, 19904, 19905).
Seeds from Mexico were planted in California in 1871. There were 9,000 trees in that state in 1936 but many of them were killed by a freeze in 1937. Several small commercial orchards were established in the 1940’s. At present there may be less than 100 acres (42 ha) in the milder parts of San Diego County. Seeds, seedlings and grafted trees from California and elsewhere have been planted in Florida many times but none has done well. Any fruits produced have been of poor quality.
In Peru, cherimoyas are classed according to degree of surface irregularity, as: ‘Lisa’, almost smooth; ‘Impresa’, with “fingerprint” depressions; ‘Umbonada’, with rounded protrusions; ‘Papilonado’, or ‘Tetilado’, with fleshy, nipple-like protrusions; ‘Tuberculada’, with conical protrusions having wartlike tips. At the Agricultural Experiment Station “La Molina”, several named and unnamed selections collected in northern Peru are maintained and evaluated. Among the more important are: #1, ‘Chavez’, fruits up to 3.3 lbs (1 1/2 kg); February to May; #2, ‘Names’, fruits January to April; #3, ‘Sander’, fruits with moderate number of seeds; July and early August; #4, fruit nearly smooth, not many seeds, 1.1 to 2.2 lbs (1/2-1 kg), June to August; #5, nearly smooth, very sweet, 2.2 Ibs (1 kg), March to June; #6, fruit with small protuberances, 1.1 to 2.2 Ibs (1/2-1 kg), not many seeds; #7 fruit small, very sweet, many seeds, March to May; #8, fruit very sweet, 1.1 to 2.2 Ibs (1/2 1 kg), with very few seeds, February to April.
In the Department of Antioquia, Colombia, a cultivar called ‘Rio Negro’ has heart shaped fruits weighing 1 3/4 to 2.2 Ibs (0.8-1 kg). The cherimoyas of Mizque, Cochabamba, Bolivia, are locally famed for their size and quality. ‘Concha Lisa’ and ‘Bronceada’ are grown commercially in Chile. Other cultivars mentioned in Chilean literature are ‘Concha Picuda’ and ‘Terciopelo’.
Dr. Ernesto Saavedra, University of Chile, after ex perimenting with growth regulators for 4 years, developed a super cherimoya, 4 to 6 in (10-15 cm) wide and weighing up to 4 Ibs (1.8 kg); symmetrical, easy to peel and seedless, hence having 25% more flesh than an ordinary cherimoya. However, the larger fruits are subject to cracking.
The leading commercial cultivars in Spain are ‘Pinchua’ (thin-skinned) and ‘Baste’ (thick-skinned.)
Named cultivars in California include:
‘Bays’—rounded, fingerprinted, light green, medium to large, of excellent flavor; good bearer; early.
‘Whaley’—long-conical, sometimes shouldered at the base, slightly and irregularly tuberculate, with fairly thick, downy skin. Of good flavor, but membranous sac around each seed may adhere to flesh. Bears well; grown commercially; early.
‘Deliciosa’—long-conical, prominently papillate; skin tbin, slightly downy; variable in flavor; only fair in quality; generally bears well but doesn’t ship well; cold-resistant. Midseason.
‘Booth’—short-conical, fingerprinted, medium to large; of good flavor; next to ‘Deliciosa in hardiness. Late.
‘McPherson’—short conical, fingerprinted but umbonate at the base; medium to large; of high quality; bears well. Midseason.
‘Carter’—long-conical, but not shouldered; smooth or faintly fingerprinted; skin green to bronze; bears well. Late. Leaves wavy or twisted.
‘Ryerson’—long-conical, smooth or fingerprinted, with tbick, tough, green or yellow green skin; of fair quality; ships well. Leaves wavy or twisted.
‘White’—short-conical with rounded apex; slightly papil late to umbonate; medium to large; skin medium thick; of good flavor; doesn t bear well near the coast.
‘Chaffey’—introduced in 1940s; rounded, short, finger printed; of medium size; excellent quality; bears well, even without hand-pollination.
‘Ott’—(Patent #656)—introduced in 1940’s; long conical to heart shaped, slightly tuberculate; of excellent flavor; ships well.
Among others that have been planted in California but considered inferior are: ‘Horton’, ‘Golden Russet’, ‘Loma’, ‘Mire Vista’, ‘Sallmon’.
A problem with the cherimoya is inadequate natural pollination because the male and female structures of each flower do not mature simultaneously. Few insects visit the flowers. Therefore, hand-pollination is highly desirable and must be done in a 6- to 8-hour period when the stigmas are white and sticky. It has been found in Chile that in the first flowers to open the pollen grains are loaded with starch, whereas flowers that open later have more abundant pollen, no starch grains, and the pollen germinates readily. Partly-opened flowers are collected in the afternoon and kept in a paper bag overnight. The next morning the shed pollen is put, together with moist paper, in a vial and transferred by brush to the receptive stigmas. Usually only a few of the flowers on a tree are pollinated each time, the operation being repeated every 4 or 5 days in order to extend the season of ripening. The closely related A. senegalensis Pers., if available, is a good source of abundant pollen for pollinating the cherimoya. The pollen of the sugar apple is not satisfactory. Fruits from hand-pollinated flowers will be superior in form and size.
The cherimoya is subtropical or mild-temperate and does not succeed in the lowland tropics. It requires long days. In Colombia and Ecuador, it grows naturally at elevations between 4,600 and 6,600 ft (1,400-2,000 m) where the temperature ranges between 62.6° and 68°F (17°-20°C). In Peru, the ideal climate for the cherimoya is said to lie between 64.5° and 77°F (18°-25°C) in the summer and 64.5° and 41°F (18°-5°C) in winter. In Guatemala, naturalized trees are common between 4,000 and 8,200 ft (1,200-2,500 m) though the tree produces best between 4,000 and 5,900 ft (1,200-1,800 m) and can be grown at elevations as low as 2,950 ft (900 m). The tree cannot survive the cold in the Valle de Mexico at 7,200 ft (2,195 m). In Argentina, young trees are wrapped with dry grass or burlap during the winter. The cherimoya can tolerate light frosts. Young trees can withstand a temperature of 26°F (-3.33°C), but a few degrees lower will severely injure or kill mature trees. In February 1949, a small scale commercial grower (B. E. Needham) in Glendora, California, reported that most of his crop was lost because of frost and snow, the cherimoya suffering more cold damage than his avocados, oranges or lemons.
The tree prefers a rather dry environment as in southern Guatemala where the rainfall is 50 in (127 cm) and there is a long dry season. It is not adaptable to northern Guatemala where the 100 inch (254 cm) rainfall is spread throughout the year.
Finally, the tree should be protected from strong winds which interfere with pollination and fruit set.
The cherimoya tree performs well on a wide range of soil types from light to heavy, but seems to do best on a medium soil of moderate fertility. In Argentina, it makes excellent growth on rockstrewn, loose, sandy loam 2 to 3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) above a gravel subsoil. The optimum pH ranges from 6.5 to 7.6. A greenhouse trial in sand has demonstrated that the first nutritional deficiency evoked in such soil is lack of calcium.