Lucuma Tree (Pouteria lucuma) – Care Info and Growing Tips

The Lucuma tree (Pouteria lucuma) is a tree cultivated for its fruit, called the Lucuma. It is a tropical evergreen tree, meaning it does not drop its leaves when the temperature falls. It grows primarily in South America. 

Mass fruit cultivation attempts have been made in Florida, but they have typically been unsuccessful. 

How do you grow a lucuma tree? 

Lucuma trees are difficult to grow outside of their natural habitat but can be grown with care in USDA Zones 9-11. They require a constant temperature in the range of 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit. They can handle a light frost, but excessive heat is one of the biggest limiting growth factors, it has been known to kill trees grown in Arizona. 

Read on to learn more about the lucuma tree. 

Lucuma Tree at a Glance  

Lucuma Tree Facts 
Mature Tree Size 20-40 feet tall, 15-30 feet wide 
Fruit Size 2-3 inch diameter 
Fruit Taste Sweet potato, maple syrup, or butterscotch 
Best for Grow Zones USDA Zones 9-11 
Growth Rate 1-2 feet per year 
Light Requirements Full sun 
Watering Needs Every other day 
Fertilization Very light, infrequent compost 
Bloom Time Spring 
Harvest Time Late summer/Autumn 
Years To Produce 3-5 years 
Common Pests Aphids, birds to the fruit 
Possible Diseases Powdery mildew 
Average Life Span 180 years 

Lucuma Tree Origins 

The lucuma tree originated in South America. It’s native to the Andean valleys of Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru 

Lucuma Tree Appearance 

The lucuma tree is a tropical evergreen tree. It has a greyish-brown bark which produces a milky latex from its wounds. The leaves are oval-shaped and grow up to 25cm (10 inches) long.  

Lucuma Tree Size 

The lucuma tree grows up to 6-12 meters (20-40 feet) tall and has a canopy that extends 5-10 meters (15-30 feet wide). 

Best Growing Zones for Lucuma 

The lucuma tree grows best in USDA Zones 9-11. In Zone 9 the minimum average temperature range is 20°F to 30°F. In Zone 11 the minimum average temperature range is 40°F to 50°F. It can handle very light frosts. 

Lucuma Tree Growth Rate 

The lucuma tree has a medium growth rate. A medium rate is usually defined as greater than one, but less than two feet per year. 

Lucuma Bloom Time 

The lucuma tree blooms in the spring in all but tropical climates where it can bloom year-round.  

Lucuma Tree Pollination 

Lucuma trees are pollinated by bees.  

Lucuma Tree Fruit 

The lucuma tree is named after its fruit, the lucuma. It is grown mainly in Peru, used as a dessert called manjar de lúcuma, or as an ice cream flavor. 

Size and Appearance 

The fruit is a berry that is 7.5-10cm (2-3inches) in diameter. It’s slightly oval-shaped with a thin brownish-green skin. 

Taste 

The lucuma fruit has a mealy consistency similar to egg yolk and tastes like sweet potato, maple syrup, or butterscotch. 

How Long Does It Take for Lucuma To Fruit? 

The lucuma fruit takes 8-9 months to mature from pollination. The fruit can be picked before it’s ripe and allowed to ripen off the tree. However, the fruit should not be allowed to fall from the tree as the skin is very thin and does not protect the fruit from bruising from its fall. 

Can You Eat Lucuma Raw? 

You can eat lucuma raw although this is not the main purpose for the fruit. If eaten raw, the skin and seeds are typically discarded. 

How Do You Eat Lucuma Fruit? 

The lucuma fruit is often dried and used as a sugar substitute. In Peru, it is used as a flavoring for juice, milkshakes, and ice cream.  

Can You Grow a Lucuma Tree From Seed? 

Lucuma can be grown from a seed in USDA Zones 9-10a in spring, 10b to 11a in autumn, and 11b all year. Sow seeds in moist, well-drained soil such as a pot with drainage holes roughly 5cm (2 inches) deep. 

Can Lucuma Trees Grow Indoors? 

Due to the lucuma tree’s sun requirements and size, it is not recommended to grow indoors. It can be grown in a pot before it reaches maturity, however. 

Lucuma Ideal Growing Conditions 

The lucuma tree grows in a tropical to subtropical environment, so replicating those growing conditions would allow your plant to thrive. 

Soil

The lucuma is tolerant to most soil types. It prefers everything from rich, loamy soil to sandy and clayish. The soil should be kept damp but not wet as too wet soil can cause root rot.  

Lighting 

The lucuma prefers full sun and a tropical environment. If the temperature is allowed to get too hot (over 80°F) it can damage and even kill a lucuma tree.  

Water 

Water should be provided every other day, making sure that the roots have a chance to breathe.  

Fertilization 

The lucuma does not tolerate heavy or frequent fertilization well. The best fertilization is an annual mix of compost. 

Lucuma Planting Guide 

The lucuma is best planted in spring and summer, but will tolerate planting in autumn in zones 10b to 11a, and 11b all in winter. It is best to plant the trees in different pots and relocate them to the ground after they’ve reached 50cm (20 inches) in height. 

When & How To Harvest Lucuma 

After the flower is pollinated, the lucuma tree takes 8-9 months to grow and mature its fruit. A tree may produce up to 500 fruits per year with each fruit weighing 4-8oz each. Fruits can grow up to 2 pounds on exceptional occasions.

The fruit can be picked early and left to ripen off the tree, and it’s important to not let the fruit fall from the tree because it could cause bruising. 

Growing Tips for Lucuma Trees 

Patience is important for proper growing of lucuma trees. Since it takes several years for it to get through its juvenile stage before fruiting, care has to be put into the tree with no reward for up to seven years.

Depending on your climate, it’s important to watch excessive heat and to make sure the tree is receiving enough water in exceptionally dry climates. 

Conclusion

The lucuma tree is rewarding if you have the patience and skill to care for it for a significant amount of time outside its natural habitat. While it grows well naturally in the tropics, it requires consistent human intervention to keep it healthy in other environments.

If you do care for it properly, you’ll be gifted with a unique tropical fruit that is a delicacy in many parts of South America

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