August 2, 2020

Perfume of Paradise

Green sugar apple tree with hidden fruit
My sweetheart wrote some sugar apple inspired poetry -

  smooth black seeds slip loose from what I seek,
  the yielding sweetness of their white robe,
  a rare sensation, eating sweet perfume,
  a perfume that sings a promise of paradise.

Some fruits are so sweet, juicy, and flavorful that, before I even get to them, pests and critters devour them on the tree. I count the sugar apple (Annona squamosa) as a paragon of such flavor. And yet my sugar apples don't have any significant pest or disease problems. The part you eat is the inner white flesh. It is creamy in both color and texture. A sugar apple makes for messy eating with quite a few seeds, but its aromatic, creamy sweetness keeps me coming back for more. 
Once a sugar apple softens, I can easily peel the skin with my bare hands and enjoy the lusciousness. Due to the preponderance of seeds, I eat them fresh and spit out the seeds as I go. De-seeding sugar apples would be time-consuming work. I'm sure there are those who feel it is well worth the effort. Those dedicated folks can make sugar apple smoothies, sugar apple sorbet, and sugar apple ice cream; or they can freeze it for future use. I will probably wait for a sugar apple de-seeding machine to be invented, before wading into dessert territory. 



Why don't the squirrels, rats, and bugs get to this fruit before I do? Perhaps because it has a thick, knobby skin, and I can pick them when they are still relatively hard. There is one type of bug that sometimes takes cover in the crevices between the skin segments. This bug looks like a delicate snowflake. While the fruit sits softening on the counter, these snowflake impersonators start crawling around. These are mealybugs. Talk about creepy. Luckily, my kitchen sink spray nozzle makes short work of these critters. I give any mealybugs a direct spritz when I bring them inside. 

Mealybugs look like crawling snowflakes
I bring up the specter of mealybugs, because they are an example of a pest that is not really a pest, at least on my sugar apples. After encountering my first few mealybugs, I was tempted to reach for a biological control. I didn't want them eating the flesh or making the fruit wither before I picked them. However, I believe that trying to fight nature is foolish and figuring out how to cooperate is the better option.  My self-restraint has proven prudent, as the mealybugs have never made it beyond the skin.   

This is not to say that mealybugs will never be a problem. Nor am I convinced that these sugar apples won't attract other pests down the road. According to UF/IFAS, there are 269 species of arthropods pests associated with Annonas! In my non-scientific opinion, this is entirely unsurprising, as they are so tasty. I'm guessing my trees are currently somewhat protected by their scarcity. Nobody else is growing sugar apples near me. For all I know, the closest sugar apple tree may be ten miles away. For now, my two sugar apple clusters are a well-kept secret; potential pests haven't gotten wind of them yet.  

Problematic pests may eventually descend on my sugar apples. I am hopeful that as I build my soil with wood chips, food scraps, seaweed, banana trunks, tree prunings, and the like, I am helping provide all of my trees with what they need long term to fight off future pests. I am not expecting the sugar apple trees to produce a huge crop, where every fruit is perfect. At this point, some of the fruit is so small, it is not worth the effort to peel and de-seed it. These small fruit will return to the soil and help build it up over time. In modern-day, conventional gardening/farming, efficiency reigns supreme. If I followed this philosophy, I would be regularly applying quick-release fertilizer. Unless there is a deficiency, such applications may bring on imbalances, which may actually attract more bugs. There is quite a gap in our understanding of what is sustainable over the longer arc of time. If pests eventually decimate my sugar apples, I will be disappointed; but for now I am happy to gorge on summer's bounty.


Sugar apples grow well where I live, because we have hot and humid summers. Beyond that, the trees require a frost-free winter, good drainage, and sun. Although they are drought-tolerant, you can practically watch the leaves fall off and the fruit slow down during a dry period. The optimum growing temperatures for sugar apple production is 73-94°F with 70% or higher humidity. This is a perfect description of South Florida in July and August. Such heat and humidity is taxing for humans, but fortifying for sugar apples. Fresh sugar apples are one reason to hold Florida's steamy summers in high esteem. 
From a European natural history book written about China in 1656.
Jesuit Missionary author. Wikimedia Commons

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