In The Arboretum Today (Black Sapote—Diospyris dignia---Ebanaceae)

by Alfredo Chiri

The Black Sapote—Diospyris dignia---Ebanaceae

Donated by: CRFG/ Stillman Planted in 1991 (r.f.-020)

Common names:

Chocolate Fruit, Black Persimmon, Sapote Negro, Zapote Prieto, Zapota do Mico, Matasano do Mico and Ebano.

This tree is not really a sapote, it is closely related to the persimmon family rather than allied to the sapote (Pouteria sapote) or to the white sapote (Casimiora edulis). For many years it was misidentified as

Diospyrous ebenaseter, a name applied to a wild species of the West Indies. The presently accepted binomial for the black sapote D. digma.

The black sapote is native to Mexico and Central America. Apparently in 1692 the Spaniards spread the plants through the Philippines and some of the Asian countries.

The tree is handsome, broad-topped, slow growing to eighty feet in height, has a furrowed trunk to thirty inches in diameter and black bark.

The leaves are elliptic-oblong, tapered at both ends, glossy, and four to twelve inches long.

The flowers, borne singly or in groups in the leaf axils, are tubular, lobed and white. Some have both male and female organs with a faint fragrance; others are solely male and have a pronounced gardenia-like scent.

The fruit is bright green and shiny at first. On ripening, the smooth skin becomes an olive green and then a rather muddy green. Within is a mass of glossy, brown to very dark brown, almost black, somewhat jelly-like pulp, soft, sweet and mild in flavor. In the center are one to twenty flat, smooth brown seeds three quarters to one inch long. The fruits are often seedless.

Certain trees tend to bear a very large, seedless or nearly seedless fruits during the summer months instead of the winter months as most trees do. No variety names have been given to these cultivars.

The black sapote is not a strictly tropical tree, it is more of a hardy tree when the tree has become well established. Young trees need to be protected the first few years. Older trees have withstood brief temperatures of 28 degrees to 30 degrees F. In Mexico the tree is cultivated up to elevations of 5,000 feet.

The black sapote has a broad adaptability as to terrain. The tree thrives on moist sandy loam, on well-drained soil. The tree will also adapt to dry areas and clay that is in constant exposure to water.

The black sapote is usually grown from seeds. Seeds remain viable for several months in dry storage and germinate in about thirty days after planting in flats. Seedlings are best transplanted to pots when they are about three inches high, and they are set in the fields when one to two years old. At that time they are one to two feet tall. They should be spaced at least twenty-four feet apart.

Fruits picked when bright green (full-grown) ripen in ten days at room temperature. Firm olive green fruits ripen in two to six days. Black sapote are very soft when fully ripe.