Since the days when early voyagers returned to Europe with more or less fabulous stories of the wonders of the East, the mangosteen has received unstinted praise. It has been termed the "Queen of Fruits," "the finest fruit in the world," and Jacobus Bontius, who compared it to nectar and ambrosia, said that it surpassed the golden apples of the Hesperides and was "of all the fruits of the Indies by far the most delicious." Bontius was warranted in his enthusiasm. The combination of beautiful coloring with delicate enticing flavor entitles the mangosteen to rank above all other fruits of the Asiatic tropics. Indeed, it is doubtful whether the world possesses another tropical fruit which is its equal. It compares favorably with the most delicately flavored fruits of the Temperate Zone; Europeans and Americans who have been accustomed to the finely flavored peaches, nectarines, and pears of northern orchards find it delicious and unexceptionable, although they may criticize other tropical fruits as being insipid or mawkish.
Plate XXIV. Upper, the mangosteen; lower, the durian.
Yet, strangely enough, this "prize of the Indies," admitted by all to be the finest fruit of the tropics, remains to this day extremely limited in its distribution, and known only to the favored few who have lived or traveled in the East Indies. David Fairchild, who has studied its requirements more exhaustively than any other man, is convinced "that the acclimatization of the mangosteen on the island of Porto Rico, and in many other parts of tropical America, is a possibility, and that the principal difficulties of its culture have probably arisen from an ignorance of the soil conditions demanded by the plant." Trees have fruited in Jamaica, Dominica, and Trinidad. There is a fruiting tree in Hawaii and a few others are scattered throughout the tropics in regions where it would have been said a few years ago that mangosteens could not be grown. There are grounds for the hope, therefore, that commercial production of this delectable fruit will not remain limited to a remote region in the eastern tropics.
The mangosteen is a small tree rarely over 30 feet high, with deep green foliage which glistens in the sunlight. The leaves are elliptic-oblong in form, acuminate at the tip, thick and leathery in texture, and 6 to 10 inches long. The flowers are polygamous; the staminate or male blossoms are borne in three- to nine-flowered terminal fascicles, and have orbicular sepals and broadly ovate, fleshy petals. The hermaphrodite flower is 2 inches broad, and is borne solitary or in pairs at the tips of the young branches. The sepals and petals resemble those of the male flower. The stamens are many, the ovary four-to eight-celled, with a sessile, eight-rayed stigma.
"This delicious fruit is about the size of a mandarin orange, round and slightly flattened at each end, with a smooth, thick rind, rich red-purple in color, with here and there a bright, hardened drop of the yellow juice which marks some injury to the rind when it was young. As these mangosteens are sold in the Dutch East Indies, - heaped up on fruit baskets, or made into long regular bundles with thin strips of braided bamboo, - they are as strikingly handsome as anything of the kind could well be, but it is only when the fruit is opened that its real beauty is seen. The rind is thick and tough, and in order to get at the pulp inside, it requires a circular cut with a sharp knife to lift the top half off like a cap, exposing the white segments, five, six, or seven in number, lying loose in the cup. The cut surface of the rind is of a moist delicate pink color and is studded with small yellow points formed by the drops of exuding juice. As one lifts out of this cup, one by one, the delicate segments, which are the size and shape of those of a mandarin orange, the light pink sides of the cup and the veins of white and yellow embedded in it are visible. The separate segments are between snow white and ivory in color, and are covered with a delicate network of fibers, and the side of each segment where it presses against its neighbor is translucent and slightly tinged with pale green. The texture of the mangosteen pulp much resembles that of a well-ripened plum, only it is so delicate that it melts in the mouth like a bit of ice-cream. The flavor is quite indescribably delicious. There is nothing to mar the perfection of this fruit, unless it be that the juice from the rind forms an indelible stain on a white napkin. Even the seeds are partly or wholly lacking, and when present are very thin and small." (Fairchild.)
Regarding the native home of the mangosteen, the classical Alphonse DeCandolle says : "The species is certainly wild in the forests of the Sunda Islands and of the Malay Peninsula. Among cultivated plants it is one of the most local, both in its origin, habitation, and in cultivation. It belongs, it is true, to one of those families in which the mean area of the species is most restricted."
The mangosteen is a common dooryard tree in the East Indies, particularly in Java and Sumatra. Much of the fruit sold in the markets comes from scattered trees. There are a few small orchards in Malacca and the Straits Settlements. The largest orchard in the world (containing, however, only 300 or 400 trees) is situated near Saigon, in Cochin-China. A few small orchards have been started in Ceylon, but mango-steens are not as abundant in that island as they are in the Malay Archipelago. So far as is known, the tree is not commonly grown anywhere in India, but there are said to be a few specimens in the Madras Presidency. Mangosteens grown in the Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines are often seen in the markets of Manila.
Concerning the behavior of this plant in the Hawaiian Islands, Gerrit P. Wilder says: "Many mangosteen trees have been brought to Hawaii, and have received intelligent care, but they have not thrived well, and have eventually died. Only two have ever produced fruit, one in the garden of Mr. Francis Gay of Kauai, which bears its fruit annually, and the other at Lahaina, Maui, in the garden formerly the property of Mr. Harry Turton."
Joseph Jones, curator of the Botanic Station at Dominica, in the British West Indies, writes in the Agricultural News (March 4, 1911):
"At the Point Mulatre estate, Dominica, two fine mangosteen trees, thirteen years old, are now fruiting for the first time. One specimen is bearing several dozen fruits, and the other a single fruit. There are known to be four bearing mangosteen trees in Dominica. As quite a number of estates possess a few young specimens of this interesting tree, it is probable that in the course of a few years the fruit will be fairly well known in the island, and may, in course of time, be available for export.
"One point in this connection is worthy of notice. The seedlings raised from trees established in the West Indies show much greater vigor, and thrive better, than did the original imported plants. This is probably due to acclimatization. With this increased vigor, and with great care in growing and selecting land and position, it may be possible to bring trees into fruit during their ninth or tenth year."
The Trinidad and Tobago Bulletin for January, 1914, says:
"In Government House Gardens there is a tree of the mangosteen which has now borne fruit more or less regularly for several years. There are also a few other fruiting trees in the Colony, e.g., at Arima in the grounds of Mr. J. G. de Gannes and at Monte Cristo estate, the property of Mr. H. Monceaux.
"In addition to the old tree in the Government House Gardens there is another which has not yet borne fruit, and a group at St. Clair Experiment Station. The latter are now 11 years old and this month (January, 1914) one of them bore a single fruit for the first time. The age of this tree is definitely known as they were planted personally by Mr. J. C. Augustus, now the Curator of the Gardens. It will be of interest to know from others who have trees of any definite records of the age at which they begin to bear fruit in the Colony."
A number of trees have been planted in Cuba, the Canal Zone, and Porto Rico, but so far as known none of them is yet fruiting. In California and Florida there appears to be little hope for the mangosteen, since it is highly susceptible to frost-injury. If stock-plants are discovered which will impart hardiness, there is a possibility that it may yet be grown in the most protected situations in southern Florida.
The name mangosteen (in French mangoustan) is of Malayan origin. Yule and Burnell derive it "from Malay manggusta (Crawfurd), or manggistan (Favre), in Javanese manggis. . . . This delicious fruit is known throughout the Archipelago, and in Siam, by modifications of the same name." Botanically the species is Garcinia Mangostana, L.
The fruit is eaten fresh. The rind, or the entire fruit dried, is used medicinally in India. It contains tannin and a crystal-lizable substance known as mangostin. According to Carl Wehmer 1 the fresh fruit contains sugar as follows: Saccharose 10.8, dextrose 1, and levulose 1.2.