The Brazilians are the only people who fully appreciate the cashew. Father J. S. Tavares, whose studies of Brazilian fruits are probably the most exhaustive as well as the most interesting which have been published, says of this tree: "It furnishes food and household remedies to the poor, a refreshing beverage to the sick, a sweetmeat for tables richly served, and resin and good timber for industrial uses."
The readiness with which the cashew grows and fruits in a semi-wild state has kept it from receiving the horticultural attention which other and more delicate species have enjoyed. In nearly all regions where it is grown, it is more common as a naturalized plant than in the fruit garden. It does not object to such treatment, but multiplies rapidly, grows vigorously, and yields abundantly of its handsome fruit.
To see the cashew at its best, one must visit the markets of Bahia or some other city of the Brazilian coast. Here, during the short season in which they ripen, immense heaps of cashews are piled up on every side. Its brilliant shades of color, varying from yellow to scarlet, and its characteristic and penetrating aroma combine to make this one of the most enticing of all tropical fruits.
The cashew is a spreading evergreen tree growing up to 40 feet in height. One of the early voyagers, Father Simam de Vas-concellos, speaks of it as "the most handsome of all the trees of America," for which extravagant statement Father Tavares takes him to task. The cashew cannot fairly be called handsome; indeed, it is oftentimes awkward or ungainly in habit, with crooked trunk and branches. The leaves, which are clustered toward the ends of the stiff branchlets, are oblong-oval or oblong-obovate in form, rounded or sometimes emarginate at the apex, and acute to cuneate at the base. They vary between 4 and 8 inches in length, and 2 and 3 inches in breadth.
The flowers are produced in terminal panicles 6 to 10 inches long. The cashew, like the mango, is polygamous; that is, some of the flowers are unisexual (staminate) and others bisexual, both types being produced on the same panicle. The calyx is five-partite, the corolla 1/3 inch broad, with five linear-lanceolate, yellow-pink petals. The stamens are usually nine in number, all fertile. The ovary is obovoid, with the style placed to one side.
Fig. 22. Foliage, flowers, and fruit of the cashew (Anacardium occidentale). The kidney-shaped seed (properly speaking, the fruit) contains an edible kernel of delicious flavor, while the fleshy portion (fruit-stalk) above it is filled with aromatic juice, and may be used in many ways. (X about 1/4)
The fruit is peculiar. The part which would be taken for the fruit at first glance is in reality the swollen peduncle and disk, while the fruit proper is the kidney-shaped cashew-nut attached to its lower end. The fleshy portion may be termed the cashew-apple, in order to distinguish it from the true fruit, or cashew-nut. It differs in size, being sometimes as much as 3 1/2 inches in length, while it may be less than 2 inches. The surface is commonly brilliant yellow or flame-scarlet in color. The skin is a thin membrane, easily broken; the flesh light yellow in color and very juicy. The kidney-shaped nut which is attached to its lower end contains the single oblong seed.
The cashew was formerly thought, by some writers at least, to be indigenous both in America and Asia. It has been shown, however, that it was originally confined to America, whence it was carried to Asia and Africa by early Portuguese voyagers. Jacques Huber 1 considered it indigenous on the campos (plains) and dunes of the lower Amazon region and the north Brazilian coast in general. It spread very early to other parts of the tropical American seacoast, and probably was introduced into the West Indies by the Indians who reached those islands from the South American mainland before the arrival of Europeans. Gabriel Soares de Souza, one of the earliest chroniclers of Brazil, found the tree growing both wild and cultivated on the coast of Bahia in the sixteenth century. He mentions a "fragrant and delicious wine" which the Indians prepared from the fruit.
1 Boletim do Museu Goeldi, 1904.
At the present time the cashew is common on the mainland of tropical America from Mexico to Peru and Brazil. It is abundant also in the West Indies. In Africa it is found on both the east and west coasts, and in Madagascar. In southern India it has become thoroughly naturalized in many of the coastal forests. It is grown in the Malay Archipelago, and is said to be abundant in Tahiti. In Hawaii it is not very common.
Regarding its occurrence in India, Dymock, Warden, and Hooper (Pharmacographia Indica) say :
"It was not known in Goa a.d. 1550; but Christopher a Costa saw it in Cochin shortly after this. ... In 1653 only a few trees existed on the Malabar coast; since then it has become completely naturalized on the western coast, but is nowhere so abundant as in the Goa territory, where it yields a very considerable revenue. It is planted upon the low hilly ridges which intersect the country in every direction, and which are too dry and stony for other crops. The cultivation gives no trouble, the jungle being simply cut down to make room for the plants."
In the United States the culture of this tree is limited to the coast of Florida, south of Palm Beach and Punta Gorda, approximately. There are sturdy fruiting trees both at Palm Beach and Miami. In California all experiments up to the present time have indicated that the climate is not warm enough for it.