The pond apple (Annona glabra) tree, reaching 15 to 30 feet tall, grows in wet soils, both fresh and saltwater. It is semi-deciduous, dropping its leaves for a short period in winter before new growth emerges in the spring, then flowering in late spring. The pond apple’s creamy-white flowers with red centers are comprised of three thick outer petals and three thinner inner petals.
The pond apple gets its name from its fruits, which appear in early summer, and ripen by fall in shades of yellow to light green with brown spots, becoming the size of a typical apple. These apples contain about 100 seeds, which are toxic and should not be consumed.
However, the fruit can be eaten or turned into a refreshing drink or jam; the taste is not appealing so a hefty dose of sugar is often added. A wide of wildlife eat the fruits, including raccoons, birds, alligators, and squirrels. The leaves have been used as an insecticide in chicken coops to kill lice. All parts of the tree have been used medicinally for centuries.
These trees once grew in great numbers south of Lake Okeechobee, where the area was named “Custard Apple Land.” Today you can see many of these trees along Sanibel’s Pond Apple Trail, which connects to the Shipley Trail behind the Bailey Homestead Preserve, and other wet areas of the island.