Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lucumo of Peru, a gift from the Andes

Its mother was born in the fields that surround the Peruvian city of Trujillo and they, my lucumos, flew in form of seed all South America over the ebullient forests of the Amazon, soon they crossed the immense Atlantic Ocean and they arrived after many flight hours at Europe.

Ripe fruit of lucumo de palo.

They made a shutdown in Seville but they could not see the wonderful blinding light of Andalusia, because jealously they were kept in the suitcase from my good Peruvian friend Luis, who brought them to me like an alive gift, a small piece of his loved Peru. "What you want that I bring you of my country? ", it had asked me before starting off in honeymoon trip. "Seeds of trees", I had answered him. 

From Seville they continued its long trip and they flew towards the east, towards the sun, towards the old Mediterranean Sea, where a small island of white rocks and an intensely blue luminous sky hoped to them loving to adopt them and to be its new overseas mother.

Flower of lucumo de seda.

The Lucumo of Peru, of scientific name Pouteria lucuma, Lucuma obovata or Achras lucuma, is a subtropical fruit tree of Andean valleys, especially abundant in Peru, where it grows between the 1000 and the 3000 msl. Also it lives on natural way in Ecuador, Colombia, north of Chile and Bolivia. It belongs to the Sapotaceae family and still is not practically known in the rest of the world. It is being cultivated with more or less success in Costa Rica, Mexico and Hawaii. Also its culture in Florida and California has been tried, but the obtained fruits have been of bad quality and some trees have died by the frosts. The first results of their experimental sowing in Australia and New Zealand seem promising. Given to its good adaptation to climates of Mediterranean type free of frosts its culture it could be successful in South Africa and in the coastal zones of the Mediterranean. Its name comes from the quechua word lucma or rucma. Two varieties are known: lucumo de palo and lucumo de seda. The differences between both are little and they are limited the form of the fruits, the texture of the pulp and the leaves. 

Leaves of Lucumo de Seda. Its great similarity with the leaves of the laurel is very showy.

Lucumo of Peru is an evergreen tree that can reach up to 20 meters of height in optimal conditions of growth, although generally does not surpass the 8 or 9 meters. The leaves measure between 12 and 25 centimeters in length. They are lanceolate and whole and they are arranged in alternating form on the stem. In some cultivars have uneven margins. The new buds and the chalices of the flowers are pubescent, covered by a smooth brown pilosity.

Beam of the leaves of the two varieties of lucumo. The leaves of lucumo of soothe are extended, finished in end and wider in their distal half, whereas those of lúcumo of wood they are more rounded and wider in his average part. Both have between 10 and 14 oblique veins ready to each side of the central axis of the leave.

Underside of the two previous leaves of a green color paler than the beam. 

Flowers and buds of lucumo de seda.

The seeds that Luis gave me germinated without problems to the few weeks. I feared that the cold of the Majorcan winter could kill the small trees just born, but turned out to be more resistant to the low temperatures and the frosts that the orange and lemon trees of my garden. Also it worried me that the calcareous soil of Majorca could burn them the roots, but again it surprised me its perfect adaptation to the Majorcan earth. They have spent 26 years already and they have become very leafy trees of more than 4 meters of height with a trunk of 15 centimeters of diameter, graft from the 50-70 centimeters of height. 

Flowers already fecundated of lucumo de palo.

By own experience I have verified that, against which they assure some North American agriculturists, lucumo of Peru resists temperatures perfectly inferiors to +5ºC, even short frosts of until -3ºC. As example we have the month of February of 2012 that has been exceptional in Majorca by the heavy snowfalls that have been repeated throughout two weeks. In my garden it has been gotten to accumulate a snow layer of up to 8 centimeters that have stayed during three days followed, covering the lucumos with a thick white mantle. Throughout these two weeks of continuous snowfalls every night the temperatures have lowered below 0ºC and the lucumos have passed the hard test without presenting no apparent damage. They are magnificent. 

Also I have verified its excellent resistance to the high temperatures of the torrid Majorcan summer, supporting perfectly 40ºC of some days of August. Nor has hurt wind loaded with fine dry sand from the Sahara Desert, called Sirocco (Xaloc in Mallorcan) blowing several times a year bringing the high temperatures of northern Africa to the Mediterranean.

Although in its wild state grows over the 1000 msl, in my garden lives wonderfully to only 80 msl. Also in Peru and Chile it is cultivated concerning the sea without no problem. Like the citruses, to lucumo it likes to live to total sun, being supported well a partial shade in its first years.

Three flowers of lucumo de seda. I recommend to extend the photos with a double click to appreciate better the details.

The flowers are numerous and grow in the armpits of the leaves in groups from two to three. They are quite small, hermaphrodites, actinomorphic and tubular with five petals of green color or clearly yellowish, welded by its base. The androecium is formed by several stamens welded to corola by the expensive intern of the petals. Frequently between stamens it can have one or two additional whirls reduced to staminodes without no anther in its end. The gynoecium is formed by unique compound pistil and an ovary generally with 4 or 5 locules, although it can have from one to fourteen, each with a unique axillary ovum.

Detail of the reproductive organs of two flowers of lucumo de seda.

My lucumos took between 12 and 15 years in blooming for the first time and a pair of years more in bearing its first fruits. It surprised much its time of flowering at the beginning of the summer, agreeing with the driest station of Majorca. Although the drought resists very well, the lack of summer rains harms much the production of fruits, because the tree suffers much indeed at the moment that more water needs. Both weekly irrigations with dripping are not sufficient and 90% of the flowers fall right after the pollination or when it begins to fatten the ovary of the new fruits.

Fruit of lucumo de seda beginning the growth of the ovary just after the fecundation of the flower.

Ripe fruit of lucumo de palo.

In Andean valleys the lucumo blooms and fructifies the year throughout. In Majorca it blooms at the beginning of summer and the fruits mature in autumn. The fruit is a berry. In the variety lucumo de seda the fruits have a cleared ovate form with an acute apex. In the variety lucumo de palo the fruits are flattened, basal compressed with the blunt apex. The skin or exocarp is fine and delicate and changes of green dark to green clearly and later to yellow as the fruit is maturing. The Indians of Peru hope to that the fruits fall to the ground, moment in which still they are not possible to be eaten then its pulp is very hard and contains very bitter latex. In order to accelerate its maturation they bury in straw, litter or stored grain until they soften. Then the pulp dismisses an pleasant sweet aroma and they already can be consumed.

Pulp and seeds of the previous fruit. 

The pulp or mesocarp has an intense yellow color with a very sweet flavor and a very pleasant aroma. In the variety lucumo de seda the pulp is mealy of very smooth consistency. In the variety lucumo de palo the pulp has a lasts and signs consistency. In both cases the pulp represents 60% of the gross weight of the fruit.

Endocarp is membrane very fine of yellow color that surrounds several seeds of dark brown color with a lasts cuticle very shining, whose number can oscillate between one and five, although generally are two. Frequently the seeds begin to germinate within the fruit, as it is seen in the previous photo.

In the Andes the fruits of lucumo weigh between 150 and 250 grams, arriving to surpass a kilo in some cultivars. In my garden the weight of the fruits is something smaller, between 50 and 150 grams, perhaps by the drought of the Majorcan summer.

Lucumo de seda at beginning of october.

In the Andean countries the pulp is very appreciated from the antiquity by the natives, although usually it is not consumed in fresh given its mealy consistency. Have been archaeological rest of ceramics in the indigenous cemeteries of the coast of Peru with representations of this fruit. Personally I like to directly eat the very mature fruits to bites without peeling, but in the Andes they prefer to consume the pulp in the form of ice creams, beaten of milk, cakes, pies, desserts, infantile foods, fillings of cakes, added yogourt, etc... In Peru the pulp is dehydrated and reduced to dust and soon it is added like additive to all type of cooking preparations.

Lucumo of Peru is a fruit with a great future. It is foreseeable that in the next decades it is gaining new markets and new consumers anywhere in the world. It would be interesting to foment its culture between the Andean farmers.


  1. Hi Joan,
    Fantastc photographs and valuable information. There is not much published from growers themselves out there.
    I live in a city with mediterranean weather and have a few lucuma de seda seedling trees growing in small pots, I need to repot them soon or plant them on the ground but I'm not sure if they are big enough to go out. Did you plant them on the ground from the begining? Have you experienced any problems with plagues or fungus? Do you have any other care different from watering?
    Thank you for sharing this with us

  2. Hi Dora,

    Thank you very much. You are very friendly.

    If you live in a Mediterranean climate, where cultivate citric trees, you will not have any problem. The lucumo lives perfectly in the same climate that the citruses. My lucumos endured without problems the terrible snowfall of the last february. If in your country there are not strong frost, I think you will have no any problem if you plant your young lucumos directly in soil.

    My lucumos have few pests. So far they have resisted the attack of the fungus Armillaria mellea. They don´t resist the soil waterlogging.

    I desire you a lot of luck.

    Best Regards:

    Juan Bibiloni

  3. Hello dear juan,
    and what a mervollous plant information on e lucumos,wonderfully,keep up the good work and do support
    our work at the BG of the free uni of Amsterdam,they want to shut us down and close the BG. pls. visit us,

    tks hans

    The Hortus Botanicus vd vrije universiteit Amsterdam
    van der Boechorststraat 8,
    NL - 1081 BT Amsterdam.
    The Netherlands.
    Phone 0031 20 5989390
    Fax 0031 20 5989387

  4. Hello Hans,

    Thank you very much. What is the BG?


  5. Hello Joan,

    Your site is the first one that I have seen that actually describes the differences between Lucumo de Seda and Lucumo de Palo. It's very interested to read. Do you grow and fruit both of these types? I also wonder if these 2 Lucumo types have the same cold tolerance?


  6. Thank you, Tomas:

    Sure, I have two varieties of lucumo growing in my garden. No, I have not detected any difference in their resistance to cold.


  7. Greetings, In my garden in Auckland, New Zealand I have very sweet and silky lucuma fruits that get to about 200grams. I noticed you mention that some trees will produce fruits to one kilo or more. If there is anyone that can post me seeds of the giant fruit I would be very glad, and pay well for them. I have a nice garden with lots of tropical fruits. Bernardo King

  8. Fantastic plant and delicious fruit :)

    1. Have you photos of the whole plant? I really enjoy reading this post....:)

    2. Sorry, Francesco, but I have no picture of the whole plant, because the trees in my garden are close together and it is impossible to make a single photo.