Black sapote (Diospyros digyna aka D. nigra)

Though this fruit has come up in a few discussions (such as here, here, and here), there doesn’t appear to be a general discussion thread about this species. There’s also some disagreement as to whether to call it D. digyna or D. nigra, and I haven’t been able to figure out which is the more accepted. And, as Richard wisely pointed out in a recent discussion, the poisonous D. revoluta is not the same species, despite sharing a common name (so don’t eat that one).

My history with the black sapote goes back to my childhood in Miami, where I grew up in poverty and food-insecure. A significant part of my diet was urban-foraged fruit, especially things that many people in Miami grow but never harvest, leaving piles of rotting fruit on their lawns. While I ate all sorts of things, I sought out most of all the “filling” or “hunger satiating” things. I knew the location of a number of large-but-neglected avocado, mango (you would be shocked how many people in Miami treat their mango trees like a nuisance rather than food source), mamey, sapodilla, and black sapote trees. Each had their place, but in many ways black sapote was my favorite of the lot (ripened when few things did, very filling, nice smooth texture to eat with a spoon, can be more flavorful when fully tree ripened). I also knew the owner of the main tree I visited, and he begged me to eat as many as I could because he hated cleaning up the mess of the tree.

In retrospect, it’s not really a top tier fruit, but for me it’s nostalgic, and for anyone who has the space to grow this (huge) tree, it is a very good famine food. Here’s the UF guide for the species, which has some great info:

A couple other links worth sharing:

Diospyros digyna (black sapote), an Undervalued Fruit: A Review (paywalled other than the abstract)

And I’ll finish with a photo of one of the seeds I’m starting in my greenhouse:

This is my first attempt to grow this species here in Seattle, which I’m planning to try to hybridize with D. texana. I’ll be keeping it in a container, perhaps grafted on texana seedlings, if they prove to be compatible, since I suspect that would have a dwarfing effect.

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florida natural farming recently posted a tasting video of his black sapote. i’ve never tasted a fully ripe one like that. i have a couple small grafted trees that seem to bloom non-stop but haven’t set fruit yet.

that’s exciting about your hybridization plans! recently i sowed a couple seeds of diospyros californica. if they germinate i’d like to try crossing them with other species like texana and nigra.

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Thank you for sharing that! However, this is a great example of the kind of video that drives me nuts because I can’t find where to jump to so I don’t miss the important bit without having to sit through 45 minutes of someone talking. I have such little patience for videos in general, but especially long meandering ones.

In any case with some jumping around, I found the important part (it starts around 35 minutes, just in case anyone else wants to skip ahead), where he picks and eats the black sapote. I agree 100% with his assessment that you should wait until they get that soft to pick them, their flavor and sweetness is far better that way. Even though they will “counter ripen” if they are picked sooner, they will be more bland.

Here’s a screenshot from his video, showing the ripe fruit and his thumb print to test softness:

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Can it be grafted to DV? I would love to try a good one one day. Maybe I’ll order one (a fruit, not the tree)

Craig Hepworth (aka FL Fruit Geek) did report grafting success on D. virginiana, with no failure after 5+ years:

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It will be picked too early and will be bland, but as long as you eat it with that in mind, I think they aren’t too hard to come by. Occasionally you’ll see them in Latin American grocery stores outside the tropics, but not too often. Common in Miami grocery stores. 100% picked way too soon though.

I’ve had great experiences on Etsy with people selling home ripened fruit. Mamey particularly, they messaged me that they could send it now but it would be better on the tree still and would send it when it was prime. Perhaps that same seller has black sapote.

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Unfortunately, I think a properly ripened black sapote would be unshippable, you’d just get a pile of mush. But it will still probably be better than what you’d get commercially anywhere.

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I was able to get a copy of this one, but can’t post it because the metadata may get someone in trouble for sharing, so instead here are a few screenshots of useful tables and excerpts.

Two tables:

This part says digyna is the currently accepted species name, mentions the poisonous lookalike, and some other related species that might be interesting to try:

Daley fruit nursery in Australia has had at least 5 different cultivars for sale. Selected for improved flavor mostly, but 1 for reduced size and one for heavy production.

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Does anyone know what temperature or a similar type of tree with similar hardiness? I see a lot of stuff saying zone 9, but hard to take it that serious

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They grow here, I believe even into the 9A area. Similar to most tropical plants though, I don’t know how well they do with actual frost, and we don’t stick around in our zone temperature for very long (we were below 30 for all of 1 hour this year, meeting the bare minimum of 9b). I did find an article from a guy around Ocala about one. A black sapote (in ground beneath an oak) survived an initial frost at 25 degrees but then “froze to the ground” after a second cold snap that went down to 24.

"These small tropical fruit trees survived the freeze with no damage, because they were planted in the shade of big evergreen oak trees. Chocolate pudding fruit (aka black sapote, Diospyros digyna) on the left; mango (Mangifera indica) on the right. Had they been planted in the open, they probably would have been killed to the ground. Update: We got hit by a second freeze on Jan 17-19, which was slightly colder; the temp dropped to about 24F (-4.5C). The black sapote shown in this pic appears to have frozen to the ground, but the seedling mangos, including the one shown, remain undamaged as of early Feb 2018. "

Heres the whole article, but its not just about black sapotes.

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24 was our brief low this year. I’m curious if I planted it under the oak if it could ever get big enough to fruit. The problem is it’s pretty dense shade under a live oak. But I can’t help experimenting with stuff like this.

Here’s what the IFAS publication in the first post says:

Trees are not cold tolerant with young trees damaged or killed at or below 30°F (-1°C) and mature trees at or below 28°F (-2°C).

Just a side note (you may already know this but I like to point it out): a location can be in 9b even if they don’t get into that range every year (or even half the years!) as long as the 30-year average of the annual minimums falls into the range.

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Maybe I’ll acquire some seeds and try it that way. Ice cream bean trees survived here in the open without any protection. They didn’t thrive but makes me think it could come back from the roots most years. I keep telling myself to stop acquiring zone pushing plants but I think I need to get burned by that flame before I learn.

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I have a elderly friend that grew up in Mexico and raves about black sapote. I decided to try some by ordering online. The website miamifruit.org sells them during the winter. They ship them hard but they soften in about a week. The texture of the fruit is amazing in my opinion. Kind of like a smooth thick fudgy pudding. The flavor was mildly sweet on the ones I tried. Sprinkling some cocoa powder on them was like eating thick chocolate pudding. The fruit doesn’t have a strong flavor. They will take on the flavor of anything you add to them. My friend said that in Mexico they eat them with juice from oranges.

The seeds are very easy to germinate. Using a heat mat and sterile medium most of the seeds germinated and grew from the fruit I ordered. I only got male flowers on a 2 to 3 year old tree. I am in the process of buying a grafted variety. The Matt Snow variety is supposed to be one of the most vigorous ones with very large fruit. I figure the vigorous variety will help it grow in San Diego which is a little cooler then the areas where they are usually grown.

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The mild flavor and low sweetness are correlated with picking them hard. The flavor is greatly improved if you wait for them to soften on the tree. Of course, then they can’t really be shipped.

I ordered a “mystery” box from Miami Fruit a couple years ago in late winter, and it included one black sapote. The flavor was so bland that I didn’t even finish it, it was such a shadow of the fruit I remember. If that’s your only experience with the fruit, and you still liked it, then you should really try to eat one tree ripened some day! I hope your trees work out.

I’m actually hoping for male flowers with my seedlings, to cross with the Texas persimmon. Do you still have your male tree? You could also just graft onto your existing tree if you get scionwood, rather than getting a new tree.

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The fruit I tried were very sweet. They just didn’t have a strong flavor. Different varieties have different flavors from what I have read. Is that not the case? The ones I got were huge. Half of them over a pound in weight. I suspect it was the Matt Snow variety. My friend from Mexico that grew up eating them thought the ones I ordered were very good. Maybe you got a bad batch?

I got rid of the plants I started from seed. I don’t have access to scion wood for Black Sapote. I have never seen it at the Southern California CRFG scion exchanges.

No, that’s my opinion of every one I’ve tried that is picked hard. I’ve probably eaten a dozen or so of those “picked hard” black sapotes over the years, usually purchased in Miami grocery stores, once recently at Robert Is Here. Their flavor is very bland compared to the ones I’ve picked myself from any trees anywhere, seed-grown usually and not grafted cultivars. There are a few large trees in Coconut Grove (neighborhood in Miami), one at the Kampong (Fairchild’s residence), and a few at the Fruit and Spice Park. They all have fruit that is very good when picked soft. The one time I picked one hard and took it home to ripen, it was no better than the store-bought ones.

I assume that most people who buy them in markets – including in Mexico! – get ones that were picked hard. But trust me when I say it’s a completely different fruit if you just let it hang for another month or two. Very rich flavor, and much sweeter.

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I actually get them cheaper shipping from a local website/vendor that gets them via miamifruit. It may be worth asking miamifruit if they have any partnerships with any local companies in seattle where u are at. You can see what they have for me in Philly in stock right now. unfortunately not Black Sapote this week which i get from them earlier in winter along with Yellow Sapote (EggFruit) and Mamey Sapote which i enjoy. I guess Sapote just means ‘fruit’? , as alot of Caribbean fruit seems to have that post word.