Cherimoyas or Custard Apples
The Cherimoya (Annona cherimolia) comes from the Andean areas of Peru. It grows into a small tree of about 6m high which is deciduous for a short time in the late spring, the new shoots forcing off last seasons leaves. Grown from seed the plants are quite variable in shape of tree and the quality of fruit so grafted trees of a known clone are best value.
Flowers occur in spring on last seasons wood but not many of these set, the later flowers on the new season’s growth carrying the main crop. The flowers are fleshy, long and greenish-yellow petalled, with the most delicious, sweet scent reminiscent of fruit salad. Because we don’t have the natural pollinating insect it pays to hand pollinate if you want a big crop and good sized fruit. Fruit size is determined by the amount of seeds pollinated, so poor pollination will give misshapen and small fruit. For pollinating by hand, pick, in the late afternoon, a number of flowers which have opened that day, wrap in damp paper, place in the fridge. Next morning, using a soft brush, take pollen from the picked flowers and put in the newly opened flowers on the tree. I have been told a young tree can be broken down by the weight of fruit when hand pollinated so thin the fruit if necessary. Some people use only pollen from flowers on the tree without picking and holding overnight but the above is supposed to be more definite.
Good flavoured fruit tend to be juicy, sweet with white flesh that is smooth and melting to slightly chewy. Not so good are the gritty fleshed ones. Some fruit can get up to 2kg in weight. Seeds are shaped a bit like a date pit and can be quite numerous.
These seeds are reputed to have insecticidal properties. Grind them up and leave them to steep in water overnight then use as a spray. I don’t know the dilution rate. Fruit are ready to pick when they change colour from a deep green to a slightly lighter yellowish green though on some cultivars the fruit can be shaken and when the seeds rattle inside they are mature enough to be picked. I prefer to leave them on as long as possible as in my mind the flavour gets better.
Trees, particularly when young, are frost tender and need to be protected if there is danger of frost. Soil should be free draining and the site should be warm and sheltered from the wind.