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Illustration: flowers, simple leaves and fruit.

The Pear apple tree (Manilkara zapota), also Sapote, Chewing gum tree or Sapotilla tree called, is a species of plant from the sapotaceae family. This species is of economic importance as its milky sap is used for the production of natural rubber. The raw material called chicle is used, among other things, to make chewing gum. The fruits called sapodilla are also important, they are eaten as fruit.


Vegetative characteristics

The pear apple tree is a slow-growing, long-lived, evergreen tree that usually reaches heights of 12 to 18 m, but rarely up to 40 m and trunk diameters of 2 to 3.5 m. It carries a lot of white milky juice. The decorative, simple leaves stand alternately in groups at the tips of the branches. The leaf stalks have a length of 0.8 to 3 cm. The elliptical or elongated elliptical to slightly inverted egg-shaped or inverted lanceolate leaf blade has a length of 4 to 15 cm and a width of 1.5 to 6 cm. Both sides of the leaf are almost equally colored and hairless, at least when old. The veining is usually clearly visible on the underside.

The roots spread just below the surface of the earth, about 80% of the roots are at a depth of less than 75 cm. About 66% of the moisture absorbed by the plant is absorbed in this area.


Blossoms and young fruit of a pear apple tree.

The flowers stand individually in the leaf axils on 1.2 to 2.5 cm long flower stalks. These are provided with a reddish-brown, felty hair that loses itself somewhat with age. The small flowers are bell-shaped. The six sepals, standing in two circles, are 6 to 10 mm long, egg-shaped or occasionally elongated and hairy with fine felts. The outer sepals lose some of their hair with age, but they are rarely completely hairless. The crown is white, 6 to 11 mm long, of which the corolla tube usually makes up half to 2/3. The calyx lobes are elongated to ovate, 1.5 to 3 mm wide, the edge is entire, irregularly serrated or only serrated at the tip. Rear appendages, as they occur in other species of the genus, are not formed. The staminodes are corolla-like, but narrowly ovate-lanceolate, 3 to 4.5 mm long, the edge is irregularly jagged. The stamens become 2/3 to 3/4 as long as the staminodes. The ovary is densely hairy and silky; the 4.5 to 8 mm long stylus is hairy only at the base, the tip is often serrated or lobed irregularly.

Fruits and seeds

Only a small part of the flowers sets fruit. Depending on the variety, the climate and the soil conditions, fruit ripening can take between four and ten months. The fruits are brown, floury, elliptical or ovoid to almost spherical in shape. They have a diameter of 5 to 10 cm. The flesh is soft, sweet and light brown to reddish brown in color. The fruit is sometimes without seeds, usually it contains three to twelve seeds. The hard, brown to black seeds have a white edge, are depressed, flat and 16 to 24 mm long, the side notch extends from the base to over the center of the seed.


An area from Mexico to Costa Rica is assumed to be the original origin. This species is distributed today from Mexico and South Florida over the West Indies to northern South America. It is also widespread in tropical regions on other continents.

Commercial cultivation of the trees is known from India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mexico, Venezuela, Guatemala and some other Central American countries.


Sapodilla fruits on the way to the market.

The milky sap of the plant contains 20 to 25% rubber and is used as the basis for making chewing gum. To obtain this substance called chicle, the trees are provided with a series of interconnected, semicircular, zigzag-like incisions from which the milky sap emerges. To prevent the trees from dying, this procedure is only done every two or three years.

The fruits called sapodilla are eaten raw as a fruit by the inhabitants of the tropical regions of America. As the use of chicle in chewing gum production is declining in favor of synthetic raw materials, the plant is now mainly cultivated for its fruits.


  • Will H. Backwell Jr .: Sapotaceae. In: Flora of Panama, Annals of Missouri Botanical Garden, Volume 55, Number 2, 1968. Pages 145-169.
  • Michael V. Mickelbart: Sapodilla: A Potential Crop For Subtropical Climates. In: J. Janick (Ed.): Progress in new crops, ASHS Press, Alexandria, USA, 1996. Pages 439-446.
  • Julia F. Morton: Sapodilla, in: Fruits of warm climates. 1987, pp. 393-398: Online.

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