Atis: The Ice Cream growing on Trees

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

This September, atis is available at most fruit markets around the Philippines. I know most people associate atis with its custardy consistency. But I like to freeze fresh atis. Scooping out the smooth, creamy sweetness of frozen atis is second to none.

As farmers harvest ripe atis fruits, the trees continue to sprout new shoots. New atis leaves unfurl. Young fruits ripen till the next harvest (Photo 1). Under the best conditions, atis carry on  producing fruits from July to late November. Since September is part of the dry season, farmers continue to water and fertilize these precious ice cream trees.

Photo 1. Atis fruit maturing in the Healing Present agroforest. (Photo by S. Suson)

In celebration of Atis, I’ll share some cultivation tips (Photo 2):

  • Atis seedlings thrive in open, sunny spots with well-draining environments like limestone-based soils. Choose an areas with any obstructions like nearby buildings or powerlines (Photo 2). If an atis tree’s roots are crowded, obstructed, or rotting in wet soils, you will not produce healthy fruits. So be sure to give atis trees ample space and well-draining soil.
Photo 2. Main cultivation techniques for Atis tree
  • Make sure to weed around your atis trees. Ideally, 3 feet around the atis trunk should be weed-free (Photo 2).. Weeds include crab grass and common herbaceous growth around trees.
  • Atis don’t like competition from small weeds or other trees. Give at least 15 feet between atis and it’s neighboring trees (Photo 2). Many agroforests grow atis with mango trees and vegetable gardens. If you choose this mixed-crop planting technique, be sure to provide adequate spacing.
  • A 4-inch layer of vermicompost can be added around the base of the atis trunk (Photo 2). You can spread the layer 5 inches away from the trunk.
  • Atis trees are also periodically pruned to 8-12 foot high. If the grow taller, they may not get adequate air ventelation and sunlight throughout their branches (Photo 2).
  • Atis fruits are considered ripe when the segments on their greenish skin turn creamy-yellow. If they ripen on the tree, local birds and bats feast on the delicious fruit (Photo 3).  Sometimes, overmature fruits burst while attached to the branch.
Photo 3. Damaged, overmature atis may have burst or been partially eaten by a bat
(Photo by S. Suson)

Thanks for reading about my appreciation for Nature’s ice cream trees. Enjoy the rest of your week. And I hope you get to sweeten your weekend with some fresh atis.