The name by which this fruit is known in Spanish-speaking countries, cherimoya or chirimoya, is derived (as mentioned above, quoting Safford) from the Peruvian name chirimuya, signifying cold seeds. The English frequently spell the word cherimoyer. The name custard-apple is often used in the British colonies; its application is not confined, however, to this one species, but extends to other annonas. The French use the name cherimolier, or more frequently anone. The name cherimoya or one of its variants is sometimes applied to other species of Annona.
From its habitat in South America, the cherimoya early spread northward into Mexico; much later it passed into the West Indies, the southern part of South America, and across the seas to the islands near the African coast, to the Mediterranean region, and to India, Polynesia, and Africa.
At present it is naturalized in many parts of Mexico and Central America. Throughout this region it occurs most abundantly at elevations of 3000 to 6000 feet, occasionally ascending (in Guatemala) to 8000 feet. On the seacoast it is not successful as a fruit-tree, and is rarely grown. The regions which produce the finest cherimoyas in Mexico lie at elevations of 5000 to 6000 feet and are characterized by comparatively dry cool climates. Excellent cherimoyas are grown at Queretaro and in the vicinity of Guadalajara. The fruit is highly esteemed in the markets of Mexico City, where it sells at high prices. While not grown commercially on a scale comparable with the avocado, its culture in certain regions is important, and regular shipments are made to the principal markets of the country.
In Jamaica, where the cherimoya was introduced by Hinton East in 1785, there are now many trees in the mountainous parts of the island. The fruit is highly esteemed in the markets of Kingston. In Cuba it is almost unknown. There are a few trees in Oriente Province and perhaps elsewhere, but the markets of Habana are not familiar with it. It may be mentioned that Annona reticulata is often called cherimoya in Cuba, which has led some writers to assume wrongly that the true cherimoya is commonly cultivated in the island.
In Argentina, cherimoya culture is conducted commercially in several places, notably the Campo Santo district in the province of Salta. The fruit is shipped to Buenos Aires, where it is marketed at very profitable prices. In Brazil it is not commonly grown; in fact it is not known in most parts of the Republic.
In 1897 M. Grabham wrote a short article in the Journal of the Jamaica Agricultural Society on the cultivation of the cherimoya in Madeira. He asserted that "many of the estates on the warm southern slopes of the island, formerly covered with vineyards, have now been systematically planted with the cherimoya" and went on to state that "the fruits vary in weight between three and eight pounds, exceptionally large ones may reach 16 pounds and over." This article, which has been widely quoted, has been responsible for the current belief that cherimoya culture in Madeira is more extensive than in any other part of the world, and that exceptionally fine varieties have been developed.
Charles H. Gable, an American entomologist and horticulturist who worked in the island during 1913 and 1914, has dispelled these illusions. Gable writes:
"I found the cherimoya industry in Madeira very primitive indeed. No effort has been made to commercialize the growing of this fruit. Most of the trees are volunteers which have sprung up from dropped seeds, or else they have been planted for shade, with perhaps a vague notion that they might some day produce fruit. ... I do not know any one in Madeira (and I have been over the entire island) who has more than a dozen trees in bearing, and only a few have that many. Most of the important islanders have at least one tree. ... At least 95 per cent of all those on the island are seedlings. Occasionally old trees are top-worked by a method of cleft-grafting, but this is not highly successful. . . . There is no uniformity in the quality of the fruits. Every gradation is found between smooth-surfaced and very rough fruits. In those which resemble each other externally there may be great differences in quality, acidity, number of seeds, and other characteristics. I never got so I felt competent to pick out a good fruit in the market. . . . The rough type attains the greatest size. The largest specimen I was able to find weighed three and a half pounds. ... I hesitate to make an estimate, but I do not believe more than a thousand dozen fruits are exported from the island in a year. . . . The trees receive no intentional cultivation. Vegetables are often planted beneath them. A species of scale insect and the mealy bug infest many of them. . . . The trees do not seem to do well above 800 feet elevation. The ripening season is from the last of November until the first of February."
In the Canary Islands the cherimoya is not cultivated commercially, but it is grown on a limited scale. Georges V. Perez writes: "Ever since I can remember it has been cultivated in the gardens of Orotava as a delicious and perhaps unequalled tropical fruit."
In the Mediterranean region there are several localities in which it can be grown successfully. A. Robertson-Prosch-owsky, who has experimented with many tropical and subtropical plants at Nice, France, finds that the fruits, if caught by cold weather before they mature, do not ripen perfectly. If, however, the winter is mild and warm they may mature satisfactorily, even if very late. Robertson-Proschowsky believes that the cherimoya is well suited for cultivation in sheltered spots along the Cote d'Azur (French Riviera), and he recommends it as a fruit worthy of serious attention in that region.
It is cultivated on a limited scale in southern Spain and in Sicily. L. Trabut 1 of Algiers writes: "Lovers of the anona will find in the markets of Algiers, during November and December of each year, a few good fruits which are sold at 30 centimes to 1 franc each. These fruits come from gardens along the western coast, where there are some magnificent trees." He further says: "It seems evident that the moment has come to extend cherimoya culture. It is not more difficult than orange culture, and at present promises to be more remunerative." Trabut recommends that the tree be planted in Algeria on the coast only, since the climate of the interior is too cold.
The cherimoya has been planted in several parts of India but has not become a common fruit in that country. H. F. Macmillan says that it is "now cultivated in many up-country gardens in Ceylon." It was introduced into the latter island as late as 1880. In parts of Queensland, Australia, it is successfully grown.
In Hawaii it has become well established. Vaughan MacCaughey 1 says: "It was introduced into the Hawaiian Islands in very early times, and is now naturalized, particularly in certain parts of the Kona and Ka-u districts on the island of Hawaii." He adds that cherimoyas are rarely seen in the markets of Honolulu, but that trees are found in gardens throughout the city.
1 Bull. 24, Service Botanique, Algeria.
Nowhere in Florida is the cherimoya a common fruit. Trees in limited numbers have been planted in several parts of the state, notably in the Miami region. While they grow vigorously they do not fruit so freely, nor is the fruit of such good quality, as in many other countries. It is probable that the climate of south Florida is too tropical for this species.
As regards California, it is believed that the first cherimoyas planted in the state were brought from Mexico by R. B. Ord of Santa Barbara in 1871. A few years later Jacob Miller planted a small grove on his place at Hollywood, near Los Angeles. In the relatively short time since these first plantings were made, the cherimoya has become scattered throughout southern California, from Santa Barbara to San Diego. The climate and soil of the foothill regions seem to be peculiarly suited to it. A few commercial plantings have been made, notably at Hollywood, but since they are composed entirely of seedlings they have not proved remunerative. Had budded trees of desirable varieties been planted, the results would have been different. In the largest commercial planting, that of A. Z. Taft at Hollywood, one seedling, more productive than the remainder, produced one year about one-fourth the entire crop of the grove. Out of eighty trees comprised in the planting, only five produced more than a few fruits. By top-working the unproductive trees to a productive and otherwise desirable variety, they could have been made valuable.
For sheltered situations throughout the foothill tracts of southern California, cherimoya culture holds great promise.
1 Torreya, May, 1917.
As soon as budded or grafted trees of good varieties are available, many small orchards should be established quickly.
The cherimoya is commonly eaten fresh : rarely is it used in any way except as a dessert fruit. Alice R. Thompson, who has analyzed the fresh fruit in Hawaii, finds that it contains : Total solids, 33.81 per cent, ash 0.66 per cent, acids 0.06 per cent, protein 1.83 per cent, total sugars 18.41 per cent, fat 0.14 per cent, and fiber 4.29. It will be noted that the sugar-content is high, while that of acids is low. The percentage of protein is higher than in many other fruits.