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The Modesto Cherimoya Mystery

The Modesto Cherimoya Mystery

I finally got to see Jeff's cherimoya in Modesto, and I must say, I am thoroughly impressed, I've never seem anything like it. The tree was giant, 15 feet, the trunk almost a foot in diameter, and of course, it was loaded with almost ripe fruits - and this in August. More interestingly, there wasn't a single flower to be seen anywhere.

I am sure any of the cherimoya specialists in Southern California would be blown away by this. I have a couple of "Booth" trees that are 10 years old, and they're a fraction of the size of Jeff's tree. Booth simply seems slow in comparison. I thought maybe it's my climate, but folks in Southern California don't fare much better than I do with my own trees.

Edgar in Simi Valley has a whole number of cherimoyas. He gets as much heat as Jeff does, and more Winter heat than Jeff. But the trees aren't nearly as big, and he also has the normal cherimoya cycle: fruits that ripen Feb-June.

So I am puzzled. What is so special about Jeff's tree? Why does it grow so large, and fruit so soon? Is it really white? It seems awfully bumpy to be a white.

As per usual, Jeff breaks all norms of what can be expected in Northern California. If Jeff can grow this cherimoya so successfully, then others should be able to as well.

Folks, this is a mystery worth investigating. We would all benefit from getting to the bottom of it. For that matter, it seems it also opens the door to commercial production in the Central Valley. For a fruit that commends upwards of $10/lbs on the Japanese market, this is a far better investement than stone fruits.


The following thread was started by Axel on August 17, 2005 at 7:44 am PST

Close up of the fruits

Here is a closeup of some of the rather bumpy "white?" fruits.


The above followup was added by Axel on August 17, 2005 at 7:45 am PST.

A couple flowers

There are a few flowers still on the tree.
But for the most part, it opens all of its flowers in May.... then thats it for the year.
As for the taste of fruit.... In my opinion they are a little sweeter than I like. But certainly better than store bought fruit... and much less expensive!
I'll have to bring you over a couple when they ripen in Oct.


The above followup was added by Jeff on August 17, 2005 at 8:03 am PST.


Heh, nice pics!

This is very ... hmm .. inspiring.

Is it what Bay area is lack of for Cherimoya - heat?

It looks like there are many other plants planted next to Cherimoya, so competing for resources is not an issue.

If I move from Fremont to Morgan Hill, I might be able to grow a 15 ft Cherimoya tree?

Jeff, where did you buy your Cherimoya tree from again?

The above followup was added by Nancy on August 17, 2005 at 8:29 am PST.

What size fruit do growers have right now?

My largest fruit are slightly larger than a golf ball and finally are putting on volume fast. They are bumpy also like Jeffs. Northridge is just 1 to 2F cooler than Modesto (hot).

The above followup was added by don on August 17, 2005 at 9:39 am PST.

Also, I don't have any flowers left either.

All my flowers were in May and June also. Maybe 1 or 2 straglers here and there in July.

The above followup was added by don on August 17, 2005 at 9:44 am PST.


My Booth is still blooming, fruits are the size of rasberries. Doesn't sound like it will stop blooming anytime soon. Bloom peak was in July.

My Fino De Jete is done blooming. Fruits are the size of marbles and swelling fast.

My guess is "White" is earlier than Fino De Jete. Unless it's really the cool temperatures here.


The above followup was added by Axel on August 17, 2005 at 10:41 am PST.

Does Cherimoya need a polenator?

My brother in law has not had any fruit and has requested that I pick him up a second tree. Of course I am going to get him the second tree(think extra fruit for the sister and her family)but, is it really needed? I have no idea of his veritial type, seems to me we should be asking for seeds from Jeffs fruit.

The above followup was added by Gregory Cushing on August 17, 2005 at 10:52 am PST.

Jeff's tree is "White"


Jeff's tree is a "White". They used to be commercially available. Don't know if they still are.

I think a lot of the speed at which cherimoyas ripen does have to do with heat. Check out the temperature forecast for today. I've compared Watsonville with Northridge with Modesto.

Seems Modesto and Northridge are almost identical. However, Jeff's fruits are still way ahead of Don's fruits.


The above followup was added by Axel on August 17, 2005 at 11:13 am PST.

Size and heat

If the temps i chart hold true, then we are considerably warmer than Northridge... that 5 to 7 degrees may make a difference, especially when the fruit are just setting.
Most of my fruit are the size of an apple right now.

What amazes me is that It set any fruit, considering how hot we have been. It was my impression that Cherimoyas need cool nights. Our average lows over the past month and a half have been very warm... near 70f. Even during this past weeks' 2 day cool down, we had midnight temps of 70f and lows about 61f.


The above followup was added by Jeff on August 17, 2005 at 12:16 am PST.

Yahoo weather claims Northridge hooter than Modesto!!!

I was surprised several weeks ago to note Yahoo weather records claim Northridge average high is 96/92F for Aug/Sept while Modesto is 92/88F. Also, they say Northridge avg low is 38F in Dec while Modesto is 39F. I've been in Northridge 8 years and have never seen any frost damage anywhere around here. Since you guys are supposedly warmer than here in Winter, I don't know why you worry so much about frost. Somethings not right here.

The above followup was added by don on August 17, 2005 at 1:39 pm PST.


Gotta wonder 'bout all those statistics.
I have seen so many differnt ones for Modesto... I don't pay much attention to them.
Best to put a couple good thermometers in your yard and be your own judge.

Based on my records, Modesto ( My yard ) has an average high in August/ July of 95f and a low of 63f.
As far as winter average lows... ours is about 39f... but we get a frost free year only about once every 10 years.


The above followup was added by Jeff on August 17, 2005 at 2:22 pm PST.

Size of fruit, heat tolerance


I think what is in the literature about cherimoyas is incorrect. "Lost Crops of the Incas" rates cherimoyas as "declining" once temperatures reach above 30C/83F. Perhaps this holds true when talking about "tropical heat", but it certainly doesn't hold from what I've seen around California.

A 30F degree diurnal shift is definitely ideal even if the lower end is 61-70F. I've seen cherimoyas grow in Hawaii at sea level, nights there are cool 68-75F. However, in Florida, cherimoyas don't do well at all - well, at least from what I heard.

The only Andean highland fruit that I think you would have trouble with in Modesto's Summers is the curuba, e.g. tacsonia based passion fruits. These require cool conditions and would not do very well. But even there there are subspecies from lower elevations that would get by with the heat.

Anyhow, given that you've not succeeded with cherimoyas in the past, yet you finally succeeded when you planted a "white" variety suggests that the "white" is vigorous enough to widstand Northern California conditions. "White" is the only one I don't have. I started with "Booth", which is notorious for being a late variety, and it's apparently not very vigorous. I have 3 year old "White" seedlings that are already bigger than my 10 year old "booth" plants.

I doubt I will ever have cherimoyas the size of apples in mid-August even on a "White" tree here. My cherimoyas don't go into full bloom until mid-June, a full month behind Modesto. However, we'll have to see what September brings.

I have to say, there is a large variation with cherimoyas that shouldn't be ignored.


The above followup was added by Axel on August 17, 2005 at 2:52 pm PST.

jeff has magic

Everything I have heard or read about cherimoya is that does poorly in very hot conditions and survives only to 25f. for a large tree. The central valley of California where Jeff lives is having one of the hottest summers ever. It is either magic ha;ha; or something else. Keep up the good work Jeff.

The above followup was added by william in merced co. on August 17, 2005 at 3:17 pm PST.

Yeah, I am begining to wonder about that :)

Well, I did see the tree, it's simply phenomenal, one of the healthiest and largest specimens I've seen in all of Northern California. It's bigger than many I've seen in Southern California.

The only other healthy cherimoya I've seen up here besides my own is the one by Gene Lester's place. His neighbor has a healthy "white" growing that makes delicious fruit.


The above followup was added by Axel on August 17, 2005 at 4:23 pm PST.

But Wait!!!

Didn't we go through all of this before? Tom posted a great article a while back about cherimoyas. The results were:

Heat tolerance - White
Has the one heat tolerance gene observed in testing.

Cold tolerance - Chaffey
Has three cold tolerance genes that were observed in testing.

So clearly, white is obviously a good choice for Modesto.

Now what would be useful for us in the Bay Area would be genes linked to cool tolerance - a gene tied to the most vigorous growth in the 50-65F temperature range. My guess is that White would have such a gene.

White is not cold tolerant, e.g. it will probably get significant damage in a severe freeze like the one of 1998.


The above followup was added by Axel on August 17, 2005 at 5:48 pm PST.
Cherimoya heat

I suffer even more summer heat than Jeff, It doesn't bother the tree at all. Even relatively young trees thrive in the scorching sun. Fruit is another matter, have to wait and see.
If growth rate is any indication, they outgrow my Atemoya easily. Atemoya fruits without a problem.

The above followup was added by Grant on August 17, 2005 at 9:39 pm PST.


Mine are White and Fino De Jete

The above followup was added by Grant on August 17, 2005 at 9:43 pm PST.

The Cherimoya Rules...

Another Modesto mystery? Perhaps...My two cents:

First, the heat of the Central Valley of California in my opinion tends to help plants grow faster and fuller. That includes a lot of plants, not just subtropicals. This is the general principle of greenhouses. Growers take advantage of this principle every day.

Second, upon examining Jeff's soil there in Modesto and corresponding with other Central Valley residents, it now seems clear that the sandy loam soil of the Central Valley is just darned good soil for growing plants, not just subtropicals.

These two points might help to explain why the Central Valley of California is perhaps the most agriculturally productive spot on the planet. So...on one level, a tip of the hat to the Central Valley and its potential to really grow great stuff. Let us hope that some of its agriculture (preferably organic) remains after all the developers have their way with the land, and greed produces more ticky tack stuff.

With respect to Cherimoyas specifically, first off, the conventional wisdom is that they do not like heat, and as such, how could they like it in the Central Valley during the summer? I think this assumption is largely wrong. I have not seen anything in any of my Cherimoya experiences or observations which suggests that they suffer under the heat. They seem to like the heat of California at least!

Truly, the summer time temperatures in parts of Southern California are not that different from Modesto, and Cherimoyas are growing just fine in Southern California. I recall walking through a grove of perhaps 20 towering Cherimoyas, taller than Jeff's, down in Southern California in a very hot and dry area.

The example of Florida having trouble growing Cherimoyas is cited, which is true, but it is not, in fact, even an absolute rule. There are Cherimoyas which grow and fruit in Florida. If you would like, I can dig up the names of the cultivar or cultivars. But continuing the comparison, for better or worse, Florida is both hot and humid. I do not think, the Central Valley's climate is quite this way. There is little humidity, and this might explain some of the differences in growing experiences.

As best I can tell, the Cherimoya is a fruit tree that many have suggested they have a deep knowledge of, but in fact, their knowledge is very anecdotal. Within the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, I would question whether anyone should consider themselves an expert such that they can say this will not grow, or this will grow. There are too few people experimenting with Cherimoyas here, and too few data points. The so called rules of Cherimoyas...well...I don't even think we are even close to finishing the preface.

As far as fruit set, and timing, I have three Cherimoyas in essentially the same spot on the side of my house, and each one is different in this regard. The El Bumpo now has fruit on it the size of plums, and has been flowering and setting fruit continuously now for 4 months. It does not look like it will stop flowering until perhaps the first cold of the winter tells it to stop. The Nata seedling has also been setting fruit continuously but the fruit on it is only about the size of a raspberry. It too shows no sign of stopping with the flowering. (The Honeyheart has flowered modestly, but has yet to set any fruit.)

At any rate, neither the Nata nor the El Bumpo was hand pollinated. I see it, these Cherimoyas are set to violate a number of conventional wisdom assumptions. First, you do not need to hand pollinate to set good amounts of fruit. Second, the fruit will likely be ready to eat the fall, perhaps continously from October- December.

My sense of the Cherimoya is that it is essentially a strong tree that can really take off with growth when it is happy, and Jeff's heat, soil, regular water and regular fertilizer are really making his tree happy. As babies, I have seen them die of root rot. As babies, I have also seen them suffer from our cold northern California winters and drop leaves. As adults, however, they seem to gain considerable strength.

For what it is worth, Jeff will tell you...I think...that some of his first experiences with trying to grow Cherimoyas in Modesto ended in failure. In particular, the baby Cherimoyas died in the winter there. He persisted in his experiments, though, got his tree past the baby stage, and now look at the wonderful results.

Just how and when Cherimoyas decide they are going to flower is still a mystery to me, but I suspect that it is a combination of the cold of the winter, the timing of Spring's first week or so of sustained heat, and the chemical signals they have in the soil. It just might be that growing Cherimoyas in Northern California means that, on average, they will flower earlier than those in Southern California.

With respect to the known cultivars of Cherimoya, I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that these cultivars are a result of essentially incomplete work. Most of the cultivars out there have not been produced by growing out 100 seedlings and identifying the best one or two. That would take some real work. Instead, most of the cultivars seem to be the product of one person having a nice seedling, and thereafter, christening it a worthy cultivar. This is merit by anecdote not by study. Assuredly, the names are famous, and these cultivars widely planted, even in large scale commercial plantings, but who has really done the 10 year project on a huge planting of Cherimoya seedlings? I submit that much of the Cherimoya "wisdom" is actually a house of cards.

The above followup was added by Paul on August 17, 2005 at 11:57 pm PST.


Ok I don't get much heat but I do get days over 40c and on those days Cherimoyas are undisturbed when right next to them are floppy Avocado's and White Sapotes. So they can handle it plenty hot. Jeff's fruit do look more bumpy than my White but they also aren't near full size yet and do get less bumpy when they are closer to being mature. I wont reccomend White to anyone living outside the "desert:P" because in the middl e of Winter here it looks well trashed compared to all my other Cherimoyas, allways has allways will. It's just not as long term cool tollerent. Jeff's grows well I guess because his soil must be a neutral or high P.H and he looks after his trees (and has lots of heat both in the day or night, I don't believe there is anything special about the tree itself

The above followup was added by Jason on August 18, 2005 at 2:32 am PST.

Well said!

It's clear that a great deal of "gardening widsom" in California is just "incomplete". What's downright frustrating, though, is that our own organization, the CRFG, which is supposed to promote the cultivation of fruits outside of their usual range, contributes to the dissemination of information that encourages people not wanting to try.

I vote that the California Fruit Facts get rewritten. In fact, if the CRFG doesn't do it, I will re-publish the CRFG facts on the Cloudforest with plenty of careful edits reflecting our findings. Maybe we should publish Northern California versions of the "Fruit Facts".

With respect to what is known about cherimoyas today: I agree with Paul that cherimoyas seem most definitely undisturbed by heat in California. However, I would venture to say that they wouldn't grow well in the desert where lows are in the 90's and highs are in the 100's. I am sure some desperate lads will try them there, and who knows, maybe they will be successful.

I agree with Paul that the key is to get them to grow large enough. The central valley has the heat advantage that speeds up this process. We have to wait a little longer, that's all.

As far as getting fruit is concerned, the fruiting cycle will be very different depending on the microclimate where you live. I am at 500 feet elevation on the south side of the Santa Cruz mountains. I get heavy offshore winds in the Springtime with adiabatic heating that make it virtually impossible to get any self pollination. Call them "Springtime Santa Ana Winds" if you like. We usually see billowing marine clouds at the top of the mountains in April and May but the moisture evaporates with adiabatic heating as the same northerly marine layer pushes the air down the slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains.

The springtime winds suck, but who am I to complain, the same wind exposure I have keeps me frost free most of the Winter.

I don't get favorable "cherimoya self pollination" weather until we get the mid-August southern surges of marine air that cause drizzle and dense AM/PM fog. So my strategy has been to hand pollinate aggressively as soon as there is any flower open.

Anyhow, I agree with Paul that we know little about cherimoyas. Seedlings are so reliable that many South American orchards don't use any selected cultivars. Often, one person will just grow a seedling that turns out to be good. This suggests that there is a lot of room to make major improvements.

The three climate extremes we should be investigating are: heat (100F+ exposure), cold (Exposure below 32F), and cool (extended exposure to 50-60F range).

So lets see what happens.


The above followup was added by Axel on August 18, 2005 at 8:37 am PST.

Modesto has much more heat units

Based on what I know, Northridge tops out at around 2PM and Modesto keeps getting warmer until 5PM and stays warm until the late evening based on what Jeff has said.

That's a huge differrence in accumulated heat.

The above followup was added by Tom on August 18, 2005 at 3:15 pm PST.

Afternoon heat

Where I live it is very cold at 5pm, we peak around 3pm but it's usually cold untill midday. Even in the Summer it's getting close to the overnight low well before it's dark. I've talked to Jeff about this before regarding bananas and why they wont grow here. He said it was warm all night in Modesto in Summer. Still I've noticed my Lady Finger bananas have started to grow again and it's still Winter!!!! I've never seen such a thing before with my "Goldfingers" that could be fake goldfingers. So that gives me hope for bananas in the future

The above followup was added by Jason on August 20, 2005 at 2:41 am PST.

I agree with Tom

I think Northridge cools off faster than Modesto. Probably the opposite occurs in Winter where Northridge actually has a lower average low than Modesto but I have never seen any frost damage around here for years.

My cherimoyas seem very happy with this climate and are far less fussy than my avacados. I think our soil PH is moderately alkali and I would think Modesto soil would be also. Maybe they don't do well in Florida, not because of the humidity but because Florida's soils are highly acidic.

The above followup was added by don on August 20, 2005 at 11:44 am PST.

Acid soil

Don, my soil is very Acid, right down to 5-5.5 in places and I can grow Avocados like weeds, I do have some troubles with Cherimoyas but I'm getting closer

The above followup was added by Jason on August 20, 2005 at 11:33 pm PST.

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