The family Anacardiaceae, to which the mango belongs, includes a large number of plants found within the tropics and a few growing in the Mediterranean region, Japan, and temperate North America. The best known relatives of the mango are, probably, the cashew (Anacardium occi-dentale), widely cultivated in the tropics for its edible fruit; the pistachio nut (Pistacia vera) of the Mediterranean region; several species of Spondias which are grown for their edible fruits; the obnoxious poison ivy (Rhus Toxicodendron) of the United States; and the so-called pepper-tree, Schinus molle, familiar in the gardens and streets of southern California.
The cultivated mangos are usually considered as belonging to a single species, Mangifera indica. It has been pointed out by certain botanists, however, that probably other species have entered into the composition of cultivated forms. C. L. Blume 1 says that they have developed from many species scattered through tropical Asia, mainly in the Malay Archipelago. It is probable that some of the groups or races recognized as horticulturally distinct represent other species than M. indica, or hybrids. A species which has been regarded particularly as one of the ancestors of cultivated forms is M. laurina.
1Mus. Lugd. Bat. 1, 190-191.
About forty species of the genus Mangifera are recognized by botanists, most of them coming from the Malayan region. Several are cultivated for their fruits, although on a limited scale. Some of them are perhaps not distinct from M. indica, as at present recognized. The following species merit consideration in connection with mango culture (the notes are based mainly on Hooker's Flora of British India and Blume's Museum Botanicum Lugduno-Batavum):
Mangifera altissima, Blanco. Pahutan. Indigenous to the Philippine Islands. Fruit large, closely resembling that of the mango, edible.
M. cassia, Jack. Binjai. Wild and cultivated in Malacca, Sumatra, and Java. Fruit oblong-obovate, reddish white in color, not of good quality.
M. foetida, Lour. Bachang. Ambatjang. Distributed throughout the Malay Archipelago. Fruit variable in form, not compressed, green, with yellow flesh of disagreeable odor. Not esteemed, although sometimes eaten.
M. laurina, Blume. Manga monjet, Manga pari, etc. Wild and cultivated in the Malay Archipelago. Fruit elliptic-oblique, the size of a plum. Blume describes numerous varieties grown in Java and other islands. Certainly very close to M. indica.
M. odorata, Griff. Kuwini. Bumbum. Wild in Malacca, cultivated in Java. Fruit oblong, yellowish green, the flesh yellow, sweet, with no turpentine flavor. "Often planted by the natives, who eat the fruit."
M. sylvatica, Roxb. Tropical Nipal, Sikkim Himalaya, and the Khasia mountains of India; Andaman Islands. The foliage is like that of the common mango; the fruit, ovoid, beaked, differs only slightly from that of M. indica.
M. verticillata, Rob. Bauno. Wild in the southern Philippine Islands. Fruit "very juicy, rich, subacid, quite aromatic, of excellent flavor."
M. zeylanica, Hook. f. Wild in Ceylon. Closely resembles M. indica, but is considered by Hooker to differ in habit and foliage, and in the character of the flowers. Fruit said to be small, edible.
The mango tree is evergreen. Seedlings on deep rich soils often reach immense size. One measured in Bahia, Brazil, had a spread of 125 feet and a trunk 25 feet in circumference. Trees believed to be more than a hundred years old are common in the Orient; not a few such are to be seen in tropical America, but the comparatively recent introduction of the mango into this hemisphere makes old trees less common than in India. Budded or grafted trees do not grow so large as do seedlings, and are probably shorter lived.
The crown is sometimes broad and round-topped; in other instances it is oval, giving the tree an erect or even slender form. The leaves are lanceolate, commonly to 12 inches in length, rigid, deep green, almost glossy, borne upon slender petioles 1 to 4 inches long. Growth is not continuous throughout a long season, but takes place in frequently recurring periods, each of which is followed by a period of inactivity. These periods of growth (commonly termed "flushes" by horticulturists) do not occur at fixed intervals, and in fact the whole tree does not always break out in new growth at the same time. It is a common occurrence for one side of the tree to be in active growth while the other side is dormant. The young leaves are usually reddish or coppery, and often hang limply from the ends of the branchlets. After the growth has begun to mature, they become turgid and soon lose their reddish color.
The small pinkish white flowers are borne in large panicles at the ends of the branchlets. In Florida and the West Indies the flowering season extends from December to April. Sometimes the trees bloom two or three times during the season. More than 4000 flowers have been counted on a single panicle, but not all of these are capable of developing into fruits, since the mango is "polygamous," that is, it produces two kinds of flowers: perfect ones having both stamens and pistils, and others which are unisexual. The unisexual flowers, which are staminate, commonly outnumber the perfect ones; usually, however, there is only one pollen-bearing stamen in each flower. The perfect blossoms are easily distinguished from the staminate by the presence in the former of the small greenish yellow ovary surmounting the white disk in the center.
The fruit varies greatly in size and character. The smallest kinds are no larger than good-sized plums, while the largest are 4 or 5 pounds in weight. The form is oval, heart-shaped, kidney-shaped, round, or long and slender. The skin is smooth, thicker than that of a peach, commonly yellow on the surface but varying greatly in color. Some varieties are delicately colored, deep yellow or apricot with a crimson blush on one cheek; others are an unattractive green even when ripe. The color depends to a certain extent on the climate in which the fruit is grown. The aroma is often spicy and alluring, indicative of the flavor of the fruit. The flesh is yellow or orange in color, juicy, often fibrous in seedlings and inferior budded varieties, but in the best sorts entirely free from fiber and of smooth melting texture. The seed is large and flattened, its tough, woody husk or outer covering inclosing a white kernel. The flavor of the mango has been likened to a combination of apricot and pineapple, yet it cannot be described accurately by any such comparison. It is rich and luscious in the best varieties, sweet, but with sufficient acidity and spiciness to prevent its cloying the palate.