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Morton, J. 1987. Wild Custard Apple. p. 86–88. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.

Wild Custard Apple

Annona chrysophylla

A noteworthy, useful African member of the Annonaceae is the wild custard apple, Annona chrysophylla Boj. (syn. A. senegalensis Auct. non Pers., often cited erroneously as A. senegalensis Pers.). The tree is so popular in its native land that it has acquired a wealth of vernacular names: wild soursop, in several localities; mavulu, mugosa, mbokwe, makulo, mlamote, etc., in Kenya; mtopetope and mchekwa in Zanzibar and Pemba; mabengeya, elipo, obwolo, ovolo, etc., in Uganda; aboboma, batanz; bangoora, bullimbuga, etc., in Ghana; mposa, muroro and mponjela in former Nyasaland; dilolo, iolo, and malolo in Angola; sougni; mete, dangan, sounsoun, tangasou, dougour, ianouri; ndong, anigli in former French West Africa.


This is a sprawling shrub or a tree to 20 ft (6 m) high with smooth, silvery bark. The leaves are aromatic, deciduous, alternate, blue-green, broad-elliptic or broadovate, 3 to 7 in (7.5-17.5 cm) long, 1 1/2 to 4 in (4-10 cm) wide, rounded at apex and base, blue-green above, downy, prominently veined beneath. The flowers, borne singly or in pairs in the leaf axils on stalks 1 to 1 1/2 in (2.5-4 cm) long, are clasped by a 3-parted calyx and have 3 triangular, thick, waxy, velvety, whitish outer petals, 3 pale-yellow inner petals, and numerous stamens. Typically compound, the pineapple-scented fruit is smooth but with the carpers distinctly outlined on the surface; yellow or orange when ripe; rounded oval; 1 to 4 in (2.5-10 cm) long; fleshy; seedy.

Origin and Distribution

This species is native and common in savannas throughout tropical Africa from the Cape Verde Islands and the Nile and Upper Guinea to the Transvaal and Zululand. It is little-known outside its natural range. It was long ago introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture into Florida as a potential rootstock for related species, and into Puerto Rico in 1924 and again in 1925 and grown at the Insular Experiment Station, Rio Piedras. According to G.L. Cruz (1979), verbatim from his 1965 publication (see Bibliography), it has become well established as araticum da areia in Brazil, especially around Minas Gerais, Bahia and Espirito Santo, but he describes the fruit as rough-surfaced and 8 to 12 in (20-30 cm) in diameter, so he must have it confused with some other species unless there is great variation among seedlings.


The botanical variety, deltoides, with elliptic to oblongelliptic leaves, rounded to broadly deltoid at the base, is the most common form in Ghana. Eggeling mentions a variety porpetac in Uganda with oblong-elliptic, ovalelliptic or elliptic leaves, rounded-obtuse or broadly cuneate at the base. There is reportedly a dwarf form, the fruits of which are borne so low they touch the ground, and are of better quality than those of taller types.


The wild custard apple is limited to tropical areas up to an elevation of 5,000 ft (1,500 m) and thrives best where its roots can reach water. It remains leafless for several months in the dry season.

Food Uses

The fruit pulp is edible and said to have an apricot-like flavor. Williamson quotes an unidentified source as saying that it is one of the best of the indigenous fruits in parts of tropical Africa. It is much appreciated in the wild by shepherds. According to Irvine, the unopened flower buds are used in soup and to season native dishes; and the leaves are eaten.

Food Value

The dried leaves contain 8.2% protein.

Other Uses

Fruit: The green fruit, because of its high tannin content, is made into ink.

Leaves: Fresh leaves are employed as fodder for domestic animals. Boiled leaves serve as native perfume, and dried leaves are used as filling for mattresses.

Wood: The soft, grayish wood is fashioned into hoe handles and employed in building huts.

Ashes: The wood ashes are used in making soap and native snuff.

Bark and roots: The bark yields a yellow or brown dye. It is pounded in water and the liquid is then used as a hair dressing. A poor-quality fiber derived from the bark is made into rope for tying fences. A combination of the bark and roots serves as an insecticide, and the root has been used for homicidal purposes. The irritant, gummy sap of the bark is an adhesive for arrow poison. There are many superstitious uses of the various parts of the plant.

Medicinal Uses: Fresh fruits in quantity and dried fruits are applied on Guinea worm sores. The parched green fruits are taken to relieve diarrhea and dysentery. A tea of the young leafy twigs or of the roots is taken to alleviate pulmonary complaints. An infusion of the leaves is a popular eye lotion. Dried, powdered leaves are regarded as purgative and as a remedy for mucous diarrhea. With quantities of water, the pulverized leaves are given to horses to expel worms. Combined with the roots and bark and other materials, they are said to be effective in treating yaws in horses. The leaves also enter into a tonic for horses. Venereal diseases and intestinal disorders are treated with preparations of the roots. The bark is chewed to relieve stomachache. It is an emetic and a vermifuge and is given to overcome convulsions in children. The bark infusion, held in the mouth, relieves toothache. In the Upper Volta, an ointment made from the bark is applied on burns. Bark and roots together will halt dysentery, expel worms, and are part of a remedy for sleeping sickness. The root infusion is employed as eye drops. Charcoal of the burned roots is applied on twitching eyelids. The root bark is considered an antidote for snakebite and is used by Nigerian medicine men as a cancer remedy. Investigations have revealed antitumor activity against sarcoma 180 ascites, and antibiotic activity. The trunk bark contains alkaloids, including 0.02% anonaine, also tannins and saponins. The leaves contain rutin, quercetin and quercetrin.

The scarcely-edible mountain soursop
Fig. 25: The scarcely-edible mountain soursop (Annona montana).
Related Species

The mountain soursop, A. montana Macf. (syns. A. Marcgravii Mart.; A. sphaerocarpa Splitg.; A. Pisonis Mart.) is also called wild soursop, guanabana cimarrona, guanabana de perro, guanabana de loma, corossol zombi; corossolier batard, boszuurzak, araticum-ponhe and araticum de paca. It grows wild from sea-level to 2, 000 ft (650 m) throughout the West Indies and southward into Peru and Brazil, and is cultivated in the Philippines and rarely in Florida.

The tree somewhat resembles that of the soursop but has a more spreading crown and very glossy leaves. It is slightly hardier and bears more or less continuously. The fruit is nearly round or broad-ovoid, to 6 in (15 cm) long. Its dark-green skin is studded with numerous short, fleshy ";spines";. It becomes very soft and falls when ripe. The pulp is yellow, peculiarly aromatic, sour to subacid and bitter, fibrous, and contains many light-brown, plump seeds. The quality is variable but generally very poor. The fruit is generally regarded as inedible but is referred to as ";edible but mediocre"; in Brazil. There, the firm core attached to the base of the peduncle is pulled out and eaten as a tidbit. In southern Florida, exotic parrots eat the fruits and scatter the seeds, and a few trees are consequently occurring as escapes. The tree is of minor interest to horticulturists as an ornamental and rootstock. The wood is soft, fibrous and useful only as fuel.

The pond apple, A. glabra L. (syn. A. palustris L.), is also called alligator apple, monkey apple, custard apple, corkwood, mamon de perro, cayur, cayuda, and various other colloquial names. It grows wild in the Florida Everglades and in coastal swamps and marshes of the Bahamas and throughout the West Indies, in southern Mexico, Central America, and southward into Peru and Argentine; also on the coast of West Tropical Africa. It is occasionally planted in southern Florida and has been introduced into Malaya and the Philippines.

The tree may reach 45 ft (13.5 m), is rather open and spreading; may become very thick at the base; has glossy, leathery, deciduous leaves. The fruit is oval or heartshaped, to 5 in (12.5 cm) long with thin, faintly reticulated, glossy yellow skin and salmon-colored, resinous, subacid, dryish pulp containing many light-brown, flattened-oval, longitudinally-winged seeds that float on water. When fully ripe and soft, the pulp is edible and some specimens are of fair quality and have been made into jelly or wine. The pond apple is of value as a ";survival"; food in extremity and of great importance as fare for wild creatures. Fishermen fashion the light, corklike wood into floats. The leaf decoction is a common, multipurpose folk remedy in the Netherlands Antilles, Mexico and South America. Seedlings are useful as rootstock for other Annona species in wet soils.