Akbar, the Mughal emperor who reigned in northern India from 1556 to 1605, planted near Darbhanga the Lakh Bagh, an orchard of a hundred thousand mango trees. Nothing, perhaps, more eloquently attests the importance of this fruit and the esteem in which it has long been held than this immense planting, made at a time when large orchards of fruit-trees were almost unknown. Three hundred years after they were set out, the English horticulturist Charles Maries found some of these trees still in vigorous condition.
Few other fruits have the historic background of the mango, and few others are so inextricably connected with the folk-lore and religious ceremonies of a great people. Buddha himself was presented with a mango grove, that he might find repose beneath its grateful shade. The Turkoman poet Amir Khusrau, whose grass-covered tomb is still venerated at Delhi, wrote to this effect in Persian verse during the reign of Muhammad Tughlak Shah (1325-1351):
The mango is the pride of the Garden, The choicest fruit of Hindustan. Other fruits we are content to eat when ripe, But the mango is good in all stages of growth.
In more recent times, British authors have not hesitated to lavish praise on this oriental King of Fruits. Fryer, in 1673, wrote regarding mangos that "The Apples of the Hesperides are but Fables to them; for Taste, the Nectarine, Peach, and Apricot fall short." Hamilton, who wrote in 1727, went even farther than this; he declares "The Goa mango is reckoned the largest and most delicious to the taste of any in the world, and I may add, the wholesomest and best tasted of any Fruit in the World."
These few quotations will suffice to show the long established prestige of the mango in its native home. After the development of trade between India and the outside world, its cultivation spread to other countries. At the present time the mango is a fruit of greater importance to millions throughout the tropics than is the apple to temperate North America.
In the past twenty years choice budded or grafted varieties have been planted in Florida and the West Indies, and the fruit has begun to appear in the markets of the North. The rich spicy flavor of the mango, its peculiarly tempting fragrance, and the beautiful shades of color which characterize many varieties, make it one of the most attractive dessert fruits on the American market.
In many instances travelers have made the acquaintance of this fruit through some of the fibrous seedlings which abound in all parts of the tropical world, and as a result may have formed an aversion for it difficult to overcome. It is only in the superb grafted varieties of the Orient, the product of centuries of improvement, that the mango exhibits its best qualities. There is more difference between an ordinary seedling and a grafted Alphonse than there is between a crab-apple and a Gravenstein.
Since the introduction of these choice varieties into tropical and subtropical America, mango culture has there taken on a new aspect. Previously limited to the production of seedling fruits usually of inferior quality though valuable for local consumption, the industry is now being developed with a view to supplying northern markets with fancy fruit.
While many of the common seedlings yield abundantly with no cultural attention, the production of fine grafted mangos is attended by certain cultural difficulties, some of which are yet to be overcome. Anthracnose, a fungous disease related to the wither-tip of citrus fruits, is a serious pest in many regions. The greatest difficulty, however, is the tendency of many of the choice Indian varieties to bear irregularly. In some cases good crops are produced not oftener than once in three or four years. Thorough investigation of cultural requirements together with experimental planting of many varieties is bringing to light the most productive kinds and the proper methods to be employed in their cultivation.