National Geographic : 1951 Sep
Mango, an Evergreen from India M ANGOES, possibly more than any other fruit, have their critics and their enthusiasts. A true mango lover may develop an almost crusading spirit in promoting the fruit. In India, where mangoes are most widely grown and eaten, wealthy gardeners often collect varieties of mango trees; one such garden is reported to contain 500 varieties. A leading American mango enthusiast is the naturalist and author, David Fairchild, first famous as a plant explorer for the U. S. Department of Agriculture. In his Florida home, The Kampong, he has collected and cultivated many fine varieties. His recent book, The World Grows Round My Door, contains a chapter on "The Gorgeous East Indian Mango"; the following quotation from it gives an inkling of the feelings of a true mangophile: "Every morning in mango time, as I walk alongthepath...Ihavetolower myhead to avoid striking one of the beautiful Borsha mangoes swinging like a pendulum . . . I fondle it with my hands and watch the red blush growing larger and brighter every sunny day while its greenish-yellow tip turns to gold, my mouth watering for a taste of it." On the other hand, there are the mango phobes, people who, after tasting a single mango, have pronounced the fruit inedible. They complain of a strong, rank flavor or, most often, say that it "tastes like turpentine." It All Depends on the Mango Why the sharp difference of opinion? The basis for it lies in the fruit itself. A superior variety of mango, properly ripened, is all that its supporters say it is-one of the world's finest fruits. An inferior mango, or an unripe one, is fibrous, tough, acid, and does have a flavor resembling turpentine. Early shipments of such inferior fruit from Florida to northern United States markets helped to start the mango off on the wrong foot in this country. It is this false first im pression which the mangophiles now feel duty bound to overcome. The mango is still little known in the United States outside of Florida, though it is one of the important fruits of most tropical countries. Its culture in the United States is limited to the southern third of Florida, and to the most favored locations there. Temperatures two or three degrees below freezing will kill or seriously injure the trees. Mango fruits are favored foods of a number of the fruit flv insects not now in the United States-the Mediterranean fruit fly, the Ori ental, and others. For this reason, fresh fruits can be shipped into the United States only from Mexico, and from there only after special treatments. Thus mangoes on American mar- kets are mainly those from the limited acre age in south Florida. The cultivated mango, Mangijera indica, like the citrus fruits, is native to southeast Asia, probably also to the near-by islands. It has been known and cultivated in India since the beginning of agriculture there, and has long been one of the most important fruits of that country. A mango grove is said to have been pre sented to Buddha in order that he might use it as a place of repose. Akbar, an emperor who reigned in northern India in the 16th cen tury, is said to have planted a mango orchard of 100,000 trees, or well over 1,000 acres, at a time when large orchards were unheard of in any other part of the world. The mango was slow to be transported to other countries. The Portuguese probably carried it to East Africa, where mangoes are now common, and also first introduced it into America. They planted it at Bahia (Salvador), Brazil, about 1700. It reached the West Indies some 50 years after its in troduction into Brazil, and was taken to Mexico from there early in the 19th century. First Florida Planting Failed Henry Perrine, a pioneer Florida horticul turist, took mangoes from Mexico to his place south of Miami in 1833. These trees apparently were lost after Perrine's death. A second introduction, about 1861 or 1862, was successful. These early plantings were seedling trees, however, and bore inferior fruit. Early attempts to introduce choice Indian mangoes were unsuccessful, but in 1889 the U. S. Department of Agriculture brought in six varieties. Most of these trees were also lost, but at least one tree of the high-quality Mulgoba variety survived. When it began to bear, some nine years later, the superior quality, as compared to seedlings, attracted wide interest. Since then, many choice Orien tal varieties have been established. The mango is a large tree with dense, glossy, green foliage. It is most fruitful in areas having alternate wet and dry periods during the year. Choice varieties are fastidi ous in their requirements: not only are they very subject to low-temperature injury but the roots will not tolerate water-logged soil. Even under the favorable conditions in Florida, yield of fruit of the choice varieties has often been low. Some commercial canning of mangoes is done in Mexico and other large producing countries. In quality, canned mangoes are comparable to canned peaches. Canned mango is rarely seen in our markets, though Indian chutney, made with mangoes, has had substantial sale here.