One particular problem is that the fruits must be allowed to ripen on the tree; when picked immature they are sticky with latex and astringent to the palate. Today, they are allowed to ripen and fall, and are then picked up from the ground. It seems likely that this process can be improved upon. Probably, fruits can be picked immature and subsequently ripened using ethylene—a gas now widely used to ripen oranges, tomatoes, and other fruit on demand. This would extend the shelf life as well as the distance they could be shipped to market.
For their ornamental value alone these trees merit attention. They might make useful reforestation species as well. Fully grown, they reach up to 30 m in height and 2 m in girth, and their hard, white wood is famous for quality. It is in international demand, and is traded under the name longhi (or longui). One website touts it for “interior joinery, furniture components, domestic flooring, stairs, decorative sliced veneers, plywood, interior fittings, turnery, construction, vehicle bodies, handles, sporting goods, carvings, agricultural implements.”
Particularly promising for investigation are the following:
This forest tree (Chrysophyllum albidum G. Don) is native across much of tropical Africa. In recent times, however, it has sadly become uncommon in the wild. Today, it occurs mostly in villages, where it tends to exist as solitary specimens. In southern Nigeria and other areas of West Africa, such household plantings are the only remnants of what was once a common forest occupant. In those villages, however, the people look after the tree, commonly managing it in at least a rough-and-ready manner.
During the harvest season the fruits are put on sale, but mostly only in nearby villages; seldom are they shipped even to the cities. That is a pity because this fleshy, juicy fruit is wildly popular. It is nearly spherical, slightly pointed at the tip. When ripe, it is orange-red, yellow, or yellow-brown in color, sometimes with brownish speckles. Inside is a yellowish pulp surrounding five brown seeds arranged in the regular star shape.
To eat the fruit people first split it open, usually by squeezing it between the fingers of both hands. This exposes the pulp, which is commonly the color of flesh and tears apart not unlike meat. This very tasty fruit flesh is eaten directly, but only after any milky sticky juice has dripped away. It is said to have potential as a soft-drink flavoring. It is even now fermented into wine and sometimes distilled into spirits. High in pectin, it forms an excellent jam, said to have a shelf life of up to a year even in the tropics.
In some areas the white star apple is exclusively a food of children, some of whom prefer to chew the immature fruit, which at that stage is like gum.4