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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

The Atemoya: A Hardy Hybrid with Heavenly Fruit

Apr 03, 2011 09:35PM ● By Beth Davis

Known as a premium tropical fruit tree, the atemoya is on the verge of becoming a popular landscape choice in South Florida. The medium-sized, flower-bearing tree is native to South America, but can be found in the West Indies and Florida. Because of its attractive appearance and the appealing flavor of its fruit, the atemoya is a valuable addition to any home garden.

Frank DeNardis, a master gardener with a nursery located on his 1.25-acre lot in north Naples, tends more than 80 organically grown tropical fruit trees, including atemoyas. He explains that the tree is a hybrid of two other tropical favorites, the cherimoya and sugar apple; its fruit is similar to the latter in appearance, resembling a fused artichoke.

The atemoya reaches about 20 feet in height and is briefly deciduous, dropping its leaves for two months during late winter. It grows relatively quickly and may begin to fruit within three years of planting. DeNardis says the tree requires moderate care; it can survive brief flooding, but is susceptible to root rot in poorly drained locations. While not particularly demanding, water-wise, it does require periodic irrigation, especially during periods of flowering, vegetative growth and fruiting.

A number of atemoya cultivars exist, but DeNardis recommends the Gefner, which is the foremost commercial variety in Florida. It produces heavy crops without hand pollination, and the fruit, he advises, is “superb.” It’s oval or round in shape, about three to five inches long, with a green outer skin that is hatched and knobby. The segmented inner flesh is white and contains 10 to 50 dark, flat seeds that are toxic and should be discarded. Atemoyas have a sweet, fruity vanilla flavor, with a hint of wintergreen, and DeNardis describes their texture as fine and crisp, yet moist and melting. He says the fruit is mainly consumed fresh. “My wife Mary and I just cut them in half and spoon out the inside for a nice treat.”

The atemoya makes an interesting addition to fruit cups or salads, and some people combine the seeded pulp with orange and lime juices and cream, freezing the mixture to enjoy as ice cream. Despite its dessert-like sweetness, the fruit is a healthy addition to daily diets—it’s low-fat, cholesterol-free and an excellent source of potassium and vitamin C

In Florida, a mature Gefner tree can bear upwards of 100 fruits that ripen during the late summer and fall. DeNardis notes that the fruit should not be allowed to soften on the tree—it’s best if picked early and left on the kitchen counter for a couple of days to ripen. An atemoya is ready to eat when it becomes slightly soft to the touch.

DeNardis, who loves sharing information about all of his tropical fruit trees, recommends that new and seasoned gardeners become active in the community by joining gardening clubs. He is a member of the Collier Fruit Growers and the Bonita Springs Tropical Fruit Club, both of which offer monthly meetings designed to share information, answer questions and get people excited about the possibilities of growing their own tropical fruit trees.

For more information or to make an appointment to visit Frank DeNardis’ nursery, located at 108 Viking Way, call 239-597-8359. For more information about Collier Fruit Growers and the Bonita Springs Tropical Fruit Club, visit

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