Related species: Bindjai (Mangifera caesia), Horse Mango (M. foetida), Kuweni mango (M. odorata).
Distant affinity: Cashew (Anacardium occidentale), Gandaria (Bouea gandaria), Pistachio (Pistacia vera), Marula (Sclerocarya birrea), Ambarella (Spondias cytherea), Yellow Mombin (Spondias mombin), Red Mombin (Spondias purpurea), Imbu (Spondias tuberosa).
Origin: The mango is native to southern Asia, especially Burma and eastern India. It spread early on to Malaya, eastern Asia and eastern Africa. Mangos were introduced to California (Santa Barbara) in 1880.
Forms: The mango exists in two races, one from India and the other from the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The Indian race is intolerant of humidity, has flushes of bright red new growth that are subject to mildew, and bears monoembryonic fruit of high color and regular form. The Philippine race tolerates excess moisture, has pale green or red new growth and resists mildew. Its polyembryonic fruit is pale green and elongated kidney-shaped. Philippines types from Mexico have proven to be the hardiest mangos in California.
Adaptation: Mangos basically require a frost-free climate. Flowers and small fruit can be killed if temperatures drop below 40° F, even for a short period. Young trees may be seriously damaged if the temperature drops below 30° F, but mature trees may withstand very short periods of temperatures as low as 25° F. The mango must have warm, dry weather to set fruit. In southern California the best locations are in the foothills, away from immediate marine influence. It is worth a trial in the warmest cove locations in the California Central Valley, but is more speculative in the coastal counties north of Santa Barbara, where only the most cold adapted varieties are likely to succeed. Mangos luxuriate in summer heat and resent cool summer fog. Wet, humid weather favors anthracnose and poor fruit set. Dwarf cultivars are suitable for culture in large containers or in a greenhouse.
Foliage: The leaves are dark green above and pale below, usually red while young. The midrib is pale and conspicuous and the many horizontal veins distinct. Full-grown leaves may be 4 to 12-1/2 in. long and 3/4 to 2 in. wide, and are generally borne in clusters separated by a length of naked stem bearing no buds. These naked stems mark successive flushes of growth. Each flush of growth will harden off to a rich green color before the next flush of growth begins.
Flowers: The yellowish or reddish flowers are borne in inflorescences which appear at branch terminals, in dense panicles of up to 2000 minute flowers. These flowers respire a volatile substance, causing allergic and respiratory problems for some persons. Pollinators are flies, hoverflies, rarely bees. Few of the flowers in each inflorescence are perfect, so most do not produce pollen and are incapable of producing fruit. Pollen cannot be shed in high humidity or rain. Fertilization is also ineffective when night temperatures are below 55° F. Mangos are monoecious and self-fertile, so a single tree will produce fruit without cross pollination. Polyembryonic types may not require pollination at all. Branches may be ringed to induce flowering, but the results are mixed.
Fruits: The fruits grow at the end of a long, stringlike stem (the former panicle), with sometimes two or more fruits to a stem. The fruits are 2 to 9 inches long and may be kidney shaped, ovate or (rarely) round. They range in size from 8 ounces to around 24 ounces. The flower scar at the apex is prominent, in some cultivars bulging from the fruit. The leathery skin is waxy and smooth, and when ripe entirely pale green or yellow marked with red, according to cultivar. It is inedible and contains a sap that is irritating to some people. The quality of the fruit is based on the scarcity of fiber and minimal turpentine taste.
The flesh of a mango is peachlike and juicy, with more or less numerous fibers radiating from the husk of the single large kidney-shaped seed. Fibers are more pronounced in fruits grown with hard water and chemical fertilizers. The flavor is pleasant and rich and high in sugars and acid. The seed may either have a single embryo, producing one seedling, or polyembryonic, producing several seedlings that are identical but not always true to the parent type. It is impossible to distinguish true-to-type from zygotic seedlings from the same fruit. Some seedlings produce numerous tiny, parthenocarpic fruits which fail to develop and abort. Mango trees tend to be alternate bearing.
Soil: Mangos will grow in almost any well-drained soil whether sandy, loam or clay, but avoid heavy, wet soils. A pH between 5.5 and 7.5 is preferred. They are somewhat tolerant of alkalinity. For good growth, mangos needs a deep soil to accommodate their extensive root systems.
Irrigation: Irrigation should start when the weather warms: February in the desert, April at the coast. Continue every one to two weeks, more often in light soils, nearly continuously in the desert, until the fruit is harvested. Irrigation may be discontinued when rains are sufficient to maintain soil moisture. In the greenhouse keep watered until the fruit is harvested, then reduce to the minimum required to avoid wilting. Watering is then increased after one to two months to initiate a new bloom and growth cycle.
Fertilization: Mango trees require regular applications of nitrogen fertilizer to promote healthy growth flushes and flower production. Chelated micronutrients, especially iron, are also often necessary. A feeding program similar to one used for citrus is satisfactory, but do not fertilize after midsummer. Organic fertilizers perform best, since the trees are subject to fertilizer burn. Young trees are particularly sensitive to over-fertilizing, but respond well to fish emulsion. Sandy soils require more fertilizer than loam or clay.
Pruning: Healthy trees require little pruning, although pruning to stimulate new growth promotes uniform annual bearing. Removing some flower clusters during a heavy bloom year may also alleviate alternate bearing. Mangos may be pruned to control size in late winter or early spring without a loss of fruit. Sap and debris can cause severe dermatitis, similar to poison oak. It is best to avoid burning prunings or litter.
Frost Protection: During the first two years, the trees should be given some protection such as an overhead cover during any frost threat. Once the tree is 3 to 4 feet high, overhead protection is difficult but still worthwhile, especially if an unusual cold snap is predicted. Frost damage can also be avoided by erecting an overhead lath shelter, orchard heating, placing lights under the canopy, or using foam or straw trunk wraps. Do not prune dead parts until all frost danger is past.
Seedlings are a gamble. Supermarket fruits may have been treated to sterilize, or chilled too long to remain viable. These seeds are normally discolored gray. To grow mangos from seed, remove the husk and plant the seed (before it dries out) with the hump at soil level. The seeds normally germinate in two to four weeks, and do best with bottom heat. Multiple polyembryonic seedlings should be carefully separated as soon as they have sprouted so not to loose the cotyledons. Seedling mangos will bloom and bear in three to six years.
Some success at grafting can be obtained in April and September, but better luck is more likely during May through August. Small plants with a diameter of a pencil graft well with the common whip graft. On larger trees the crown groove bark graft allows several scions to be put on at once. Fully grown trees may be topworked by crown or groove bark graft, or prune hard and whip graft sprouts later. Plastic bagging with a few drops of moisture improves the graft's chances of being successful.
Graft in the second year, using cleft, side or tongue (splice) graft in midsummer. Scion and stock should be swelling for a new flush of growth. Grafts are most successful if the leaves are allowed to remain below the graft, but remove suckers. Use pencil-sized scions of hard wood with three or four nodes. Cover with loose punctured white paper bag for shade.
If top working, do not dehorn the entire tree at one time; leave at least two fully leafed branches intact. Marcottage is feasible in humid climates or greenhouses, but results in few plants. Although budding is rare in California; it can be done by using a shield bud in an inverted T, at the moment the tree begins a new growth flush. Cuttings are rarely successful, although experiments have shown that rooting may be improved by treating with ethylene, which destroys the root-inhibiting hormone in the cambium.
The Mango is a suitable and productive tree for growing in a container or greenhouse. Start with established plants of named cultivars. Select the finest Indian cultivars, which are most rewarding for the effort involved. A large tub is required, with casters for easy moving. In the greenhouse, the atmosphere should be kept dry as possible to avoid anthracnose. Place a fan nearby to move the air around trees and use ventilators. The plants should be hosed down in the morning on a weekly basis to control mites. A regular spraying of appropriate pesticides for anthracnose and mealybug may also be needed.
The location of the intended planting will dictate the choice of cultivars. Seedlings selected under California conditions have provided cultivars suitable for coastal counties. Florida cultivars are generally more suitable in the desert and Central Valley.
Pests and Diseases: Scale, mealybugs and mites are frequent pests in the greenhouse and orchard. In the greenhouse, thrips often turn leaves rusty brown. Malathion is the conventional spray for insect pests; sulfur works on mites. Gophers are attracted to the roots. The flower panicles, young fruit and leaves are subject to powdery mildew (Oidium mangiferae), especially in rainy weather or frequent fog. A spray of powdered kelp at bud break will often control it. Sodium bicarbonate and fungicide sprays are also effective. Trees planted in pavement openings seldom develop mildew.
Bacterial spot (Colletotrichum oleosporides) distorts and turns developing leaves black and disfigures developing fruit. Infection may spread to fresh young growth. Anthracnose can be controlled with bimonthly applications of copper spray or captan as a growth flush begins, and until the flowers open. Resume spraying when the fruits begin to form. Mango trees are very sensitive to root loss that can occur from digging, transplanting or gopher damage. "Soft nose," a physical disorder of shriveling at the fruit apex, seems associated with excessive nitrogen in soil. Exposed fruits sunburn in high temperatures.
Fruit Harvest: Mango fruit matures in 100 to 150 days after flowering. The fruit will have the best flavor if allowed to ripen on the tree, although winter-maturing fruits must be ripened indoors in coastal California. Ripening fruit turns the characteristic color of the variety and begins to soften to the touch, much like a peach. Commercial marketability requires 13% dissolved solids (sugars). When the first fruit shows color on tree, all of that size fruit or larger may be removed; repeat when remaining fruit colors. Do not store below 50° F.The fruit ripens best if placed stem end down in trays at room temperature and covered with a dampened cloth to avoid shriveling. Mangos ripen in June from January bloom in interior California, and October from April bloom on the coast. Less time is required to mature greenhouse fruit.
Commercial potential: The mango is the apple (or peach) of the tropics, and one of the most commonly eaten fruits in tropical countries around the world. The fruit is grown commercially on a small scale in Florida. In California a large planting in the Coachella Valley has now reached production stage. The quality of the fruit is generally comparable to Florida mangos, but has other advantages., i.e. the lack of fruit fly and seed weevil populations. Mexico, and to a lesser extent Central America, is a major supplier to U.S. markets today.