11
STAR APPLES

Two common dooryard trees in tropical American countries are the star apple (Chrysophyllum cainito) and satinleaf (C. oliviforme). Everybody loves having them grow near the house. Their leaves are deep green on top and have a satiny coat of golden brown shiny hairs underneath. Wind rustling the foliage creates a striking effect as the green and gold flash sequentially in the sunlight.1 In addition, these beautiful trees produce some of the most beloved local fruits. Their apple-sized delights have a sweet flesh with small seeds arranged in a typical star pattern.

Both trees are widely planted in the Americas. They grow rapidly, often rising more than a meter each growing season. Once established, they become almost trouble free, resisting among other things pests, diseases, and high winds. As long as they remain unexposed to freezing temperatures, they burden the grower with almost no problems and continue to produce quantities of delicious fruit year after year.

What is not well known is that Africa has its own counterparts. The vastnesses below the Sahara contains more than a dozen species related to the American star apple and satinleaf.2 These too are attractive trees producing delicious fruits. They also are candidates for producing trouble-free dooryard delights, and perhaps more. But these African relatives remain horticulturally undeveloped and their nutritional qualities are not yet clear.

Despite neglect, Africa’s star apples are esteemed in many places. The fruits are green, purple, apricot, yellow, or copper in color. Their smooth skin encloses a white, sweet-tasting pulp arranged in segments. Cut transversely, most of them display the family crest: the star-shaped arrangement of seeds. The pleasantly acid pulp is almost always eaten fresh.

Clearly, the various African species deserve at least preliminary horticultural and nutritional investigation. An overarching requirement for

1

For this reason, star apple is also called golden leaf tree. Victorian novelist Charles Kingsley described it as, “like an evergreen peach, shedding from the underside of every leaf a golden light—call it not shade? A star apple.”

2

Some botanists divide African star apples among different genera: Chrysophyllum, Bequaertiodendron, and Manilkara. Gambeya is a synonym sometimes used for Chrysophyllum (especially in the tropical-wood trade). Family: Sapotaceae.



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