In case you were wondering, those large trees in the parking lot at the Shark Valley Visitor Center and the Ernest Coe Visitor Center are sapodilla trees. Native to tropical America, it is a tree with multiple uses. The hard, red wood is economically valuable as lumber. Its sap is the source of chicle, used to make chewing gum. It is a slow-growing, long-lived tree that is used for landscaping throughout extreme South Florida. In the tropics it can grow to 100 feet.
An ornamental evergreen, the sapodilla bears small balllike flowers on slender stalks at leaf bases. The nearly round fruit is hard and astringent when immature, turning soft, juicy, and sweet with the consistency of a pear. The skin is reddish brown with a sandpaper texture. Sapodilla fruit is best eaten fresh from the tree, chilled and spooned out of the thin skin, or added to salads or desserts.