Chico is believed to be native to Yucatan and possibly other nearby parts of southern Mexico, as well as northern Belize and northeastern Guatemala. It was introduced long ago throughout tropical America and the West Indies and the southern part of the Florida mainland.
Chico is a prolific tree. It bears fruit most months of the year and can be grown in many parts of the country. Even during harvest peaks, chico can still command good market price.
Chico fruit are eaten fresh when ripe. They may also be pulped and used for making ice cream or jam. Although a poor source of vitamin C, the fruit a bounds in calcium, phosphorus and iron. The bark produces a milky latex, the source of chicle (a major ingredients of chewing gum), that we still import from Mexico and Central America. Lumber from chico wood can also be used in the manufacture of the cabinets and furniture.
In spite of good prospects, the tree is not grown commercially. In fact, in 1985 only a total of 7,130 hectares of land was planted to chico.
a. Growth Habit
The sapodilla is an attractive upright, slow-growing, long-lived evergreen tree. Distinctly pyramidal when young, with age the tree may develops a crown that is dense and rounded or sometimes open and somewhat irregular in shape. It is strong and wind-resistant and rich in a white, gummy latex. In the tropics it can grow to 100 feet, but grafted cultivars are substantially shorter. A 40-year old tree in La Mesa, California is only about 12 feet tall.
The leaves are highly ornamental, 3 to 4-1/2 inches long and 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide. They are medium green, glossy, alternate and spirally clustered at the tip of forked twigs.
Sapodilla flowers are small, inconspicuous and bell-like, approximately 3/8 inch in diameter. They are borne on slender stalks in the axil of the leaves. There are several flushes of flowers throughout the year.
The fruit is round to egg-shape, 2 – 4 inches in diameter. The skin is brown and scruffy when ripe. The flesh varies from yellow to shades of brown and sometimes reddish-brown, and may be smooth or of a granular texture. The flavor is sweet and pleasant, ranging from a pear flavor to crunchy brown sugar. Fruits can be seedless, but usually have from 3 to 12 hard, black, shiny, flattened seeds about 3/4 inch long in the center of the fruit.
The two native variety of chico are “Native” or “Pineras”. The third variety, Sao Manila was introduced into the country from Indonesia.
The Native variety is more prolific than the Ponderosa. It bears small fruit that average about 100 grams each. Most of the trees in our country belong to the Native variety. The fruits of the Ponderosa, however, are bigger with an average of about 300 grams each.
Soil and Climate Requirements
A rich and well-drained sandy loam soils the best type of soil for chico. But it can also thrive on clay or shallow sandy soil with an underlying layer of soft lime stone. If the chosen site is windy and the soil is loose, plant windbreaks to prevent the root from damage.
Chico grows best at low and medium elevations. But it also thrives from the sea level up to around 2,500 meters. Well- distributed rainfall is favorable to chico’s growth. They can even grow in areas with long dry season if they have been provided with adequate water when they were young. In drier regions, incidence of pest and diseases is low.
Propagation by seeds is not recommended since it takes a long time. When propagation good varieties, use cleft grafting, inarching and marcotting.
Marcotting is done during the rainy season to minimize the need for frequent watering. Marcot those branches that are at least one centimeter in diameter. When the marcotted branches have sufficient roots, separate them from the mother plant. Plant the marcotted branches that have form roots in container and support them with sticks. Remove the rooting medium and the plastic. But if the medium used is coconut husk, leave in intact to avoid damage. Place the plants under shade, then expose gradually to full sunlight. When the new leaves are already mature, the marcotted branches are ready for permanent planting.
Inarching can also be used to propagate chico. This process takes about 3 to 4 months. However, this method is not recommended for large scale propagation, because the operation is slow and laborious.
Cleft grafting can be used for large scale propagation of superior chico trees. This method is rapid, economical and requires less labor. Get rootstock from one to two-year old seedling that has a one centimeter branch diameter or larger. Get scions from dormant terminal shoots. Although grafting may be done anytime of the year, best results are obtained from November to February. If successful, scion will form new shoots in about 30 days and the newly grafted plants are then ready for transplanting after 3 to 4 months.
Culture and Management
For backyard planting, simply dig a hole large enough for the ball of soil supporting the plant. Set the plant in the hole and fill up the space with soil.
For large scale planting, plow and harrow the land several times. Plant chico 6 to 8 meters using the triangular or square system of planting. This spacing can accommodate about 156 to 256 plants per hectare for the square system and 180 to 318 plants per hectare for the triangular system.
Plant during the start of the rainy season (May to June) to reduce the need for frequent watering. Water the plants immediately after transplanting an irrigate until the plant are 3 to 4 years old. Irrigation is beneficial for fruit setting.
Determine the nutrient status of soil by chemical analysis. This tell you how much fertilizer is needed. If this is not possible, just follow the general fertilizer recommended for chico. For young, non-fruit bearing trees, apply 1/4 to 1/2 kg ammonium sulfate for each tree every year. When they start to bear fruit, apply 1/2 kg of complete fertilizer. And as the trees grow older, increase the amount of fertilizer. A full-grown 15 to 20 years old tree receive at least 1 kg of the suggested fertilizer materials every year. But also remember that the continuous use of ammonium sulfate makes the soil acidic. So, have the soil pH measured. This will tell you if the soil needs lime to bring it back to level favorable to chico’s growth (pH 5.5 to 6.5).
Remove very low branches during the tree’s formative years. Prune dead, weak or diseased branches as well as those that rub other branches.
Controlling Pests and Diseases
Fruit flies lay eggs beneath the fruit surface and the larvae inside making the fruit unfit for consumption. The usual control measure is to bait the adult flies. Fruit borers also attack the fruits even until harvest time. Damaged fruits dry up and drop to the ground. Damaged fruits that remain in the trees until harvest may become unmarketable. To control fruit borers, spray them Malathion.
other insect pests attacking chico are gray mealy bugs, twig borers, bug worm, mound building termite and chico budworm.
A disease unique to chico is the gall disease. Gall are form at the junction of branches. They retard the growth of the tree and cause the death of some branches. To avoid this, do not get planting materials from trees affected with this disease.
It is only after 8 to 10 years that the trees grown from seeds bear fruits. But marcotted chicos may bear fruits only after one year from planting, especially if they were obtained from large branches. In general, they begin bearing fruits, 3 to 4 years after planting. Grafted trees, on the other hand, bear fruit 5 to 6 years after planting. as the trees grow old their yield increases. And a 20-years old tree may produce 1,500 to 2,500 fruits every year.
Fruits of Ponderosa mature in about 8 1/2 months from harvesting. While fruits of Native trees mature in about 7 months.
For home consumption, harvest the fruits when they are almost ripe. However, if the fruits are to be marketed, harvest them at a much earlier stage of maturity. To determine this, rub your thumb with the surface of chico (the side not exposed to sunlight) to remove the brownish powdery material. Fruits that are mature have yellowish brown skin.
For more information:
DOST Regional Office No. 10
J. V. Serina St., Carmen, Cagayan de Oro City
Telefax: (088) 858-3931 to 33; (08822) 72-3802
source: region10.dost.gov.ph, photos from tradewindsfruit.com, gotouring.com