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Growing White Sapote from seed...worth it at all?

Growing White Sapote from seed...worth it at all?

I live in New Orleans and it seems every block here has its kumquat/satsuma/lemon citris so I thought a White Sapote would be a good thing to have.
So I have some teenies growing from seed and more seed stuck in pots. Is this worth while? Or should I grind my teeth and wait until I can afford the sixty odd bucks to buy a named cultivar and have it shipped (the shipping is the bear. Ow!)
If that is what I must do, who's the best? Or do you all know anyone who makes smaller ones that are easier to ship?
I ate the smashed one Whole Food let me have free for seed (unsanitary. But it smelled so good, and I already live in New Orleans and have an astonishing immune system ) and now I am addicted and gotta have some more White Sapote.

The following thread was started by drasaid on April 07, 2005 at 3:38 pm PST

Yeah grow heaps !

It takes up to 10 years to get fruit, maybe 3 or 4 years less for you since it's pretty much tropcial there except for the little Winter, it can take 6 years to get fruit from a grafted one so there isn't a huge difference. Also I'm getting my first fruit from a grafted white sapote this year and it's really taking it's toll on the tree, it has only grown like a 10th of what it normally does in a year so you can see that they really fo need more years of growth to be happy with fruit just as nature intended. I think Tom A once said that 75 percent of seedlings are worth eating and 25 percent are no good with 25 percent of the 75 being really good. is that right Tom?. Also seedling white sapotes grow MUCH faster and taller than the grafted ones there's a bigger difference between seedlings/grafted performance than on any other plant I grow

The above followup was added by Jason on April 07, 2005 at 4:19 pm PST.

Growing White Sapotes


I really hate to be contentious, but I'm not sure that I'm entirely in agreement with Jason.

My understanding is that seedlings (of most edible fruit trees, and certainly white sapotes) can potentially take quite a bit of time before bearing any fruit. From what I understand of white sapotes, a seedling might bear in less than 10 years -- but it could take that long, or even longer, or it might never bear. It just depends (mostly) on the genetics of the particular seedling.

Most grafted plants, including grafted sapotes, should bear fruit much sooner. How long a grafted tree will take to fruit depends not only on the genetics of the stock plant, but also on the genetics of the scionwood that is grafted onto the stock. Some cultivars are much more precocious (faster bearing) than others.

Tom A., the resident white sapote expert on this board (and also for the California Rare Fruit Growers group), once told me of a seedling that he had grafted to "Vernon", a particularly precocious cultivar. That particular grafted tree grew very vigorously, and the plant flowered and produced fruit within about a year after it had been grafted. This may have been extremely lucky case, but it does show that some grafted sapotes can bear very quickly indeed.

And I'm not sure that the chances of a seedling producing good fruit are as high as Jason indicates. A "good-tasting fruit" rate of 75% among white sapote seedlings sounds awfully high to me, but I may be wrong. My impression was that seedling white sapotes have a much higher chance of producing awful tasting fruit (unlike, say, cherimoyas, which supposedly almost always produce good-tasting fruit from seed).

If you have limited space, I'd say go with a grafted plant or plants. (Playing around with seedlings is great if you have vast amounts of space to work with; it's probably a fine strategy for Jason, who seems to have a property the size of Rhode Island.)

Grow your seedlings out a bit, and plan on grafting them yourself a bit later. If your grafting skills are scant, you'll have time to build them up while your plants mature a bit. White sapotes are relatively easy to graft when the plants are flushing new growth.

If you come back to this board and ask for scionwood, I'm sure that there will be plenty of people willing to send you a stick or two. The only cultivar I can send wood of any time soon is "McDill", but I've got plenty of it! Others will have different cultivars to offer.

And if you decide that you really want to buy a grafted plant right away, I'd suggest that you contact Roger Meyer. You can find his e-mail address on the web-site, under "member nurseries". He's very reliable and carries plants at reasonable prices. He's based in Southern California, and I'm not sure what his shipping rates to New Orleans would be -- but he's an honest fellow, and I'm sure that he wouldn't charge exorbitant rates. Ben Poirier is another nurseryman listed on the CRFG page who might be a good person to contact; I've never ordered anything from him, but he also has a great reputation. If you hunt around, you should be able to find a plant for a lot less than $60.

The above followup was added by Ashok on April 08, 2005 at 0:54 am PST.

Fair enough

I also have a Vernon tree, that's been in the ground only two years and looks like it could hold some fruit any time soon but it's the exception to the rule, I also have other grafted varieties that have not even flowered after 4 years, I have a friend whos seedling has started to flower after about 8 years, but it's still not strong enough for fruit. But I really honestly believe that in the long term say 12 years a seedling of just about anything will have over taken a grafted tree in life long total fruit production. If I continue to let my Pike tree fruit for the next 6 years (but I wont) untill it's 12 years old it would be lucky to be 20 feet tall now that the fruit is slowing it down so much. I have a seedling that is practially 20 feet tall allready at 5 years of age, by the time it's at fruiting age it will be large enough to easily hold 100's of fruit each year. That's why I like to have some seedlings, I also don't think there has been any proper selection of sapotes and that most of the grafted varieties just happened with people finding a seedling and saying oh that tastes nice it must be a rare thing I better name that one, when probably it's nothing rare at all, no such thing as a grafted white sapote in Mexico after all and all the old people that know about them still think they taste great, if half of them tasted bad that couldn't be the case. If you only have space for one tree and want to see what a sapote tastes like in a hurry buy a grafted one, buy a Vernon: ). I'm still amazed by the plant prices in the states, standard price for a grafted sapote here is less than $20, I think they are very much undervalued but the general clueless population wont pay more than that for a silly fruit tree : )

The above followup was added by Jason on April 08, 2005 at 6:56 am PST.

More Sapotes


Your theory on "total lifetime fruit production" in white sapotes is probably pretty sound. Seedling trees will get much larger than grafted plants, and so will ultimately bear more fruit (if they bear at all, of course). But, from what you've said, you *want* to have giant forest-tree sized specimen plants. Most gardeners in urban and suburban settings will not have the space for such massive trees.

I've never even been to Mexico, so I can't argue much with you on practices there! However, the impression I've gotten is that there are loads and loads of seedling fruit trees growing all over the place in certain regions. There are probably higher concentrations of them in areas where humans live (e.g., around villages) because people drop seeds there.

From what I've read -- and, again, I concede that I have no first-hand experience here -- villagers would just get to know which trees have good fruit, and which have bad fruit. With so many seedlings around the place, it probably doesn't matter much if many or most do not produce good fruit -- some will.

In the case of the mamey sapote (Pouteria sapota) and the sapodilla (Manilkara sapota), both widespread forest-canopy trees in warm, humid regions, my impression was that perhaps most of the plants out there will not produce fruit of good quality. Cherimoyas may be an exception to this rule, with most seedlings producing pretty good fruit.

Anyway, I've never been there, you have -- so shoot me down if I'm wrong!

On sapote cultivars: yes, as far as I understand it, all the named cultivars are just seedlings that someone or other decided were particularly good -- there's been no breeding or systematic selection. The fruit could probably be improved a lot if subjected to controlled breeding and selection.

The above followup was added by Ashok on April 08, 2005 at 12:46 am PST.


Ashok, I saw giant mamey trees growing wild in the bush and some had smaller round fruit and some had the more egg shaped larger fruit, they all taste like mamey though. I saw a few sapodilla trees but none growing in the bush, just around Oaxaca city (saw a 2 or three giant Cherimoya's in the same abandoned block of land) anyway I don't think you can get a bad tasting sapodilla I ate lots of them all over Mexico and they are all good : ). It's hard with Cherimoyas because just about anything Annona non guanabana/soursop is called a Cherimoya but I realised later on that unless I was right up high in the mountains in central Mexico they weren't cherimoyas but other Annona's native to Mexico, they even have native obscure ones in the tropics down near Tampico. In South Mexico where there are wild manilla mangos, mamey, sapodilla and papayas their "cherimoyas" are the favorite fruit but I wasn't there in Winter so I couldn't taste one, but they were not actually cherimoyas, just little trees with much smaller leaves, I did have it figured out what they were at one stage but I've fogetten now. You can get bad tasting Cherimoyas, because I had a couple of really dodgy ones in Mexico, but I don't think it would be possible get one from a good tasting parent.

White sapotes for me were by far the hardest fruit tree to find in all Mexico, very very illusive I went to all the places people told me they were at and the only trees I saw in my 6 months of looking were a few small immature ones in a park, a few large old trees in cemetarys and one with very orange fruit in a backyard, one as a street tree outside one of Puebla's hospitals (near the "hippy" market) and another orange fruited one just on the side of the road somewhere on the outskirts of the city. One thing I still don't understand is why did the white sapote trees I saw in Mexico have such dark almost black bark with the normal white spots, and why do none of my trees have dark bark like that, does it just come with age? or was I looking at a slightly different species? this I don't understand. There must be a town near Puebla with a huge natural stand of sapotes because they brang enough sapote leaves in one night to the city to make like a carpet to put some special bread on (to flavour it??), they had tons of sapote leaves, never did find out where exactly those people came from but it would have been down the mountain a little and within a couple hours drive

The above followup was added by Jason on April 09, 2005 at 6:21 am PST.


I lost a large section of that post above to the gods of the cloudforest? oh well it's too late to remember all that again :)

The above followup was added by Jason on April 09, 2005 at 6:24 am PST.


Now I see all my original post :)

The above followup was added by Jason on April 09, 2005 at 6:24 am PST.

Mexican Fruit Trees


That's all very, very interesting. It sounds like some wild mamey trees do have less desirable fruit (much smaller than cultivated forms), even if the taste is the same.

The above followup was added by Ashok on April 09, 2005 at 1:55 pm PST.


Ashook some are about 6-7?cm in diameter, much smaller than the egg shaped ones

The above followup was added by Jason on April 09, 2005 at 9:18 pm PST.

seedlings, precocity,etc

seems like all good info above; here's a little more.
I don't think anyone has deliberately bred white sapotes, anywhere. There's been a bit of selection, including from large plantings. I think the biggest planting ever done is in Africa-- I forget how many trees, but it might be a thousand. Academics in Japan at one point planned to make some crosses, but I think they never did. I think the Israeli academic s have also not done any crossing, although they made two big plantings.

From seed, sapotes are far more variable than peaches or cherimoyas (not surprising, given the lack of breeding). What others wiser than I have said is that roughly 25% of seedlings will be quite poor in flavor or other attributes (eg, very bitter, tiny fruits maybe 1" when ripe, etc.) 25% will not fruit ever-- they may have some flower defects, only male flowers, etc). About 50% will produce fruit that an average person (not a sapote enthusiast) would enjoy or find palatable. So that's not too bad odds. My standard advice is to plant a seedling, graft it to one or more cultivars of your choice, but leave at least one branch of the seedling to see what you get. If it's a dud ultimately, graft it over. If it's great, distribute it.

How long sapotes take to bear from a grafted plant can vary dramatically, depending on how happy/unhappy your plant is, but also the variety. Precocity varying by variety is not something I see much of in most fruiting species (typically you graft mature wood and it fruits pretty rapidly-- how rapidly usually depends on the species, not the variety within the species.) But the variety grafted has a BIG effect with Casimiroa on when it fruits. Vernon is fast. I've also got fruit less than a year from grafting on Nettie, and Cuccio is also quick. McDill can be slow--I think it was 6 years for me til first fruit for a very healthy, happy tree in the ground, 10 yrs for someone in SoCal. Suebelle can also be quite slow (eg, over 10 years for someone in Walnut Creek/NorCal), but can also fruit quite a bit quicker. Part is just because it is not a vigorous grower, but there's more to it than that.

The above followup was added by Tom A. on April 09, 2005 at 9:32 pm PST.

Tom A, fruiting years on grafted sapotes

Tom my Pike tree flowered and set small fruit fro many years before finally setting seeded fruit this year, I'm not sure it it was just a matter of time of if it was because My ortega planted right next to the Pike flowered a little this year and also that bees finally found some interest in the Pike this year (because it was larger and had more flowers than before), can a solo Pike set seeded fruit? or only with a pollinator?

The above followup was added by Jason on April 10, 2005 at 5:13 am PST.

I'm not sure

but I bet you can figure it out. Take a look at the flowers-- are they perfect, or female only? Are they self-fertile-- you can test this by covering with a paper bag and seeing what happens after you use a brush on a given flower. All the Pike trees I've seen have lots of other sapotes around. Usually, when a sapote starts to flower, it is mature enough to fruit. The big delay is in waiting for them to flower. I just put a plant in the ground today that's grafted to Nettie and Lemon Gold (plus a branch of the seedling). Probably fruit in 2 years would be my guess.

The above followup was added by Tom A. on April 10, 2005 at 9:29 pm PST.

Tom, Pike's pollen

Tom, I have not seen pollen on the Pike flowers, for my money they are female only flowers. Ortega makes tons of pollen and Vernon seems to make some, but not as much as Ortega. I've noticed the flower shapes different on the trees that make pollen. My Vista has made a couple of flowers and I think that was almost exactly the same as Pike. None of my other sapotes have ever flowered, oh! well Dade has but I wasn't looking at it too much (I'd guess it's female only though because my friends flowers alot but has never set fruit). The interesting thing about all this is that I have about 40? seeded fruit on my Pike tree and the Ortega is about 6 meters away and only made maybe 15 flowers in total last Spring

The above followup was added by Jason on April 10, 2005 at 10:16 pm PST.

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