No other species of Spondias is so extensively used in tropical America as this. In many parts of Mexico and Central America it is a fruit of the first importance. It occurs in a wide range of seedling races or forms, and is capable of great improvement by selection and vegetative propagation. While scarcely so good as the imbu, the better varieties are pleasantly flavored and attractive in appearance.
The red mombin is a small tree, often spreading in habit. The trunk is thick and the branches are stout and stiff. Its native home is tropical America, where it reaches a maximum height of about 25 feet. The leaves are 5 to 8 inches long, with 16 to 21 oblong-elliptic, oblique, subserrate leaflets 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches in length. The purplish maroon flowers are produced in small unbranched racemes about 1/2 inch long.
The fruits, borne singly or in clusters of two or three, are quite variable in size and form. Commonly they are oval or roundish, but they may be oblong, obovoid, or somewhat piriform. They range from 1 to 2 inches in length, and from yellow to deep red in color. The seed is oblong, 1/2 to 3/4 inch long, and rough on the surface. The season of ripening in most parts of tropical America is August to November.
In most Spanish-speaking countries this species is known as ciruela (plum), a name which has been corrupted in the Philippines to siniguelas. In parts of Mexico and in Guatemala it is known by the Aztec name jocote (xocotl). The common name in the French colonies is prunier d'Espagne, prunier rouge, and mombin rouge, and in the British colonies it is sometimes called Spanish-plum. Spondias purpurea, L. is a botanical synonym of S. Mombin, L.
J. N. Rose 1 describes a number of different forms observed in Mexico. These races (perhaps species in some instances) deserve further study.
The red mombin is abundant in Mexico and Central America from sea-level up to elevations of 5000 or 6000 feet. The value of the annual crop in Mexico is estimated at more than $70,000. The fruit may be eaten fresh or may be boiled and dried, in which latter condition it can be kept for several months. When fresh it has a subacid spicy flavor somewhat resembling that of the cashew, but less aromatic. Some varieties are sour, and others have very little flesh; the best are pleasantly flavored and have about the same amount of flesh and seed as a very large olive.
In Cuba several seedling races are grown. They are usually distinguished as ciruela roja, ciruela amarilla, and so on. In Brazil the species appears to be little known. It is successfully cultivated in south Florida, as far north as Palm Beach or perhaps farther. Varieties from high elevations in tropical America should prove slightly hardier than those from the seacoast. No trees have been grown to fruiting age in California, so far as is known. In favorable situations they might succeed there if given protection during the first few winters.
The tree is semi-deciduous. The leaves fall toward the end of the cool season and are soon replaced by new ones.
The character of the soil does not seem to be important. Good trees can be found growing on shallow sandy land, on gravel, and on heavy clay loam. A rich, moist, fairly heavy loam perhaps suits it best. Cuttings take root so readily that large limbs, cut and inserted in the ground as fenceposts, will often develop into flourishing trees. P. J. Wester recommends that cuttings 20 to 30 inches long, of the previous season's growth (or even older wood) should be set in the ground to a depth of about 12 inches, in the positions which the trees are to occupy permanently. The rainy season is the best time to do this. The trees should stand about 25 feet apart, unless the soil be very poor, in which case 20 feet will be sufficient. No horticultural varieties have as yet been established. By selecting from the existing seedlings in tropical America, many good ones could be obtained.
1 The Useful Plants of Mexico, contributions from the U. S. Nat. Herbarium, V, 4, 1899.