Quararibea cordata, the South American sapote or chupa-chupa, is a large, semi-deciduous, fruit tree (up to 45m in height), native to Amazon rainforest vegetation in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. It bears orange-yellow fruit which is soft, juicy, sweet and contains 2-5 seeds. Fruit is usually eaten out of hand, though it may be juiced.
Although generally popular, the fruit is variable in quality, with some trees producing intense or fibrous fruits and little work has been done in establishing preferred cultivars. It grows best in wet, deep soils, but can be killed by floods.
Quararibea cordata is native to the foothills of the Andes, and is common throughout parts of Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia, as well as rural southern Panama. However, it is not widely cultivated.
Chupa-chupa failed to gain much international recognition and has not been widely planted outside its native range. In 1964, US pomologist Bill Whitman obtained seeds from Peru and planted a tree in his garden at Bal Harbour, Florida, where it has successfully fruited.
Matisia cordata Bonpl.
English: chupa-chupa, matisia, sapote Columbiana, South American sapote; Brazil: sapota, sapote-do-Peru, sapota-do-Solimóes (Portuguese); Columbia: chupa-chupa, zapote amarillo, zapote, zapote chuchupa, zapote chupachupa, zapote chupa, sapote de monte, sapotillo; Ecuador: sapote, zapote; French: sapote du Pérou;
Peru: sapote de monte, sapotillo, zapote de monte, zapote chupachupa, zapote chupa; Spanish: firolisto, chupa-chupa, mamey Colorado, zapote de Monte, sapote, sapote de monte, sapotillo, zapote, zapote De monte
Quararibea cordata (Bonpl.) Vischer, Q. cordata (Bonpl.) García-Barr. & Hern.Cam.
Malvaceae (mallow family) formerly Bombaceae
Central and western Amazonia (Colombia to Peru)
USDA hardiness zones
Food; ornamental; pioneer species within it’s natural range
40 ft (12 m) in cultivation; 130-145 ft (40-45 m) in the wild
Heavy canopy of stiff branches with large leaves clustered in rosettes
Erect; large tree; much branched; pagoda form
Sometimes buttressed; stiff branches in tiered whorls of 5; grey-brown rugose trunk; copious gummy yellow latex
Required for maintaining ease of harvest
Semi-deciduous; alternate; long-petioled; clustered in whorls near the ends of the branches; membranous; glabrous; seven-nerves arising from the base
Short-stalked; cauliflorous; yellowish-white or rose-tinted; 5-petalled flowers; borne in masses along the lesser branches and trunk; bloom Jan., Feb.
Berry; oval, ovoid to elliptic; orangey-yellow, fleshy pulp; thick rind; soft; juicy, sweet; two to five hard seed; long fibres
Requires good, well-drained soils, rich in organic matter; tolerates the dry, oolitic limestone of South Florida with proper fertilization
Not demanding but slightly acid conditions are preferred
Does not tolerate drought 6
Soil salt tolerance
No frost tolerance
Most roots are shallow with only a few deeper ones providing anchorage 4
Invasive potential *
Susceptible to white flies
The tree grows wild in lowland rainforests of Peru, Ecuador and adjacent areas of Brazil, especially around the mouth of the Javari River. It is common in the western part of Amazonia, southwestern Venezuela, and in the Cauca and Magdalena Valleys of Colombia. 3
Matisia was introduced and cultivated elsewhere in the tropics e.g. in south Florida and North Queensland, Australia. 2
The South American sapote (Quararibea cordata Visch.) was introduced into South Florida from the Amazon Basin in 1964. The first crop of large “top-shaped”, orange-fleshed fruit appeared nine years later. This medium-size ornamental tree, with big bold attractive “lollipop” shaped leaves, appears adapted to our warmer areas where several specimens now fruit regularly. It is thought that this interesting fruit from South America warrants further planting, both for the beauty of the tree and the quality of the sweet mango-melonlike flavored fruit. 9
Bombacaceae is no longer recognized at the rank of family but as a subfamily (Bombacoideae) within the family Malvaceae. The family Malvaceae has nine subfamilies; in the subfamily Bombacoideae is the genus Quararibea with 98 species. 6
The South American sapote (Quararibea cordata Humb. & Bonpl., Vischer) is not a relative of the other sapotes. Some authors have referred to it as “South American sapote” or “chupa-chupa”, the name used in Colombia and Peru. The tree is very fast-growing and the canopy is open with a pagoda form, with five branches appearing in several whorls along the main stem. The stem is fairly straight and can be devoid of branches for over half of its length. The foliage is dense, semi-deciduous and concentrates at the end of the branches with almost no foliage inside the canopy. 6
The appearance of the fruit is appealing, with an olive-colored skin that is slightly velvety to the touch. The fruit is juicy, similar in taste to mango, and also slightly fibrous.
The sapote has a symmetrical, full leaved form (Fig. 22) that makes a large ornamental for gardens or parks.
The fruit pulp is popular in the Amazon Region, where the fruits are commercialized and the tree grown in home gardens.
Zapote exhibits allelopathic activity with surrounding plants.
There are no limbs for the first eight feet then branches appear in groups of five equidistantly spaced around the trunk in the same plane (Fig. 22). These radiate out and ascend at varying angles of inclination from nearly horizontal to about 60 degrees. This branching pattern is repeated at four to five foot intervals with bare trunk in between. 9
The flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds, bees, wasps and bats. In the afternoon some trees become self-compatible. 3
The fruit is rounded, ovoid or elliptic with a prominent, rounded knob at the apex and is capped with a 2- to 5-lobed, velvety, leathery, strongly persistent calyx at the base; 4 to 5 3/4 in (10-14.5 cm) long and to 3 3/16 in (8 cm) wide, and may weigh as much as 28 oz (800 g). The rind is thick, leathery, greenish-brown, and downy. The flesh, orange-yellow, soft, juicy, sweet and of agreeable flavor surrounds 2 to 5 seeds, to 1 1/2 in (4 cm) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) wide, from which long fibers extend through the flesh. 3
The flavour is reminiscent of a very sweet pumpkin with overtones of mango and apricot. Opinions vary widely over the quality of this fruit, with some people describing it enthusiastically as like a blend of mangoes, peaches and strawberries, whilst others have found it to be bland. There are forms with very little fibre and these can be utilised for juice. 7,8
The fruit has five sections and each one has a seed except when some abort leaving only the seed coat in the pulp. It takes about 240 days from anthesis to fruit ripening in the tropics, and up to 270-300 days in the subtropics. 6
They’re ready to be picked when the calyx lifts slightly and reveals a light coloured ring running round its periphery. Don’t wait for them to fall as they’re way past ripe by then. 4
Some of the fruits borne in Florida appear to be of better than average quality. In northern Peru, there is reportedly a type with little fiber and superior flavor. 3
The fruit will stay on the tree until it rots. It must be harvested with a knife or a long cutting-pole. Light color around the edge of the calyx is a sign of ripeness (Fig. 1). Whitman’s tree bore 58 fruits in 1976. A normal crop may be 3,000. One tree in Tefé, Brazil, produced an estimated crop of 6,000 or more fruits in a season. 3
A mature tree can produce 300-1000 fruit given suitable pollination and management, but alternate bearing can be a problem. They can be stored for about 2 weeks at room temperature. 4
The chupa-chupa is a tropical to subtropical species. In Ecuador, it ranges from sea-level to 4,000 or even 6,500 ft (1,200-2,000 m). In Florida, young trees need protection from winter cold. For best performance, the tree needs full sun and plenty of moisture. 3
The tree attains maximum dimensions in the low, wet, deep soils of South American forests, yet it does well in cultivation on the slopes of the Andes and seems to tolerate the dry, oolitic limestone of South Florida’s coastal ridge when enriched with topsoil and fertilizer. 3
This is a fruit that has always been eaten fresh out-of-hand, although it may be juiced. In general, sapote has very low nutritional value, but the carotene content is relatively high. 11
The pulp of the fresh fruit is juicy, though somewhat fibrous. A juice or nectar can be made from this pulp also. Some experiments with jam and jelly making have not given good results. 5
The deep orange color of the pulp indicates that the fruit is a good source of vitamin A; indeed, carotene levels of 2,400 µg per 100 g of pulp have been recorded for the fruit. 12