Mango Facts

A. Taxonomy

The genus Mangifera belongs to the order Sapindales in the family Anacardiaceae, which is a family of mainly tropical species.

  • Division: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Sub-Class: Rosidae
  • Order: Sapindales
  • Family: Anacardiaceae
  • Genus: Mangifera
  • Species: indica
  • Scientific Name: Mangifera indica L.

The Mango, Mangifera indica L., is the most economically important fruit crop in the Anacardiaceae (Cashew or poison ivy family). Other important members of this family include cashew, pistachio, and the mombins (Spondias spp.). The family contains 73 genera and about 600-850 species, with a few representatives in temperate regions, distinguished by their resinous bark and caustic oils in leaves, bark, and fruits. The other distant relatives of Mangifera are 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), dragon plums (Dracontomelum spp.) kaffir plum (Harpepbyllum caffrum), etc.. Malesia has been considered as the phytogeographic region extending from the Malay peninsula south of the Kangar-Pattani line to the Bismarck archipelago east of New Guinea (Whitmore, 1975). Apart from edible fruit Anacardiaceous species also yield other valuable products like wood, gums and resins, wax and varnishes and tanning materials. It is also a family well known for the dermal irritation produced by some of its members, including some Mangifera species, can cause some form of dermatitis in humans. It is therefore ironic that two of the most delectable nuts and one of the world's major fruit crops come from this family.

The Genus Mangifera L.

Mangifera contains about 30 species, although some authors put the number as high as 69. Up to 15 other species produce edible fruit, including the water mango M. laurina, and M. sylvatica, the wild, forest mango from which M. indica is thought to have descended. The highest diversity occurs in Malaysia, particularly in peninsular Malaya, Borneo and Sumatra representing heart of the distribution range of the genus. The natural occurrence of all the Mangifera species extends as far north as 27o latitude and as far east as the Caroline Islands (Bompard and Schnell, 1997). Wild mangoes occur in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sikkim, Thailand, Kampuchea, Vietnam, Laos, southern China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon and Caroline Islands. Maximum species diversity exists in western Malaysia and about 28 species are found in this region.

B. History of the Mango

Native to southern Asia, specially Eastern India, Burma and the Andaman Islands, mango has been cultivated, praised and even revered in its homeland since ancient times. Buddhist monks are believed to have taken the mango on voyages to Malaya and eastern Asia in the 4th and 5th Centuries BC. Persians are said to have taken mangoes to East Africa around the 10th Century AD. The fruit was grown in the East Indies before the earliest visits of the Portuguese who apparently introduced it to West Africa in the early 16th Century and also into Brazil. After becoming established in Brazil, the mango was carried to the West Indies, being first planted in Barbados about 1742 and later in the Dominican Republic. It reached Jamaica about 1782 and, early in the 19th Century, reached Mexico from the Philippines and the West Indies (Morton, 1987).

Experts at the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany (BSIP) in India have traced the origin of mango to the hills of Meghalaya, India from a 65 million year-old fossil of a mango leaf. The earlier fossil records of mango (Mangifera indica) from the Northeast and elsewhere were 25 to 30 million years old. The 'carbonized leaf fossil' from Damalgiri area of Meghalaya hills, believed to be a mango tree from the peninsular India, was found by Dr R. C. Mehrotra, senior scientist, BSIP and his colleagues. After careful analysis of the fossil of the mango leaf and leaves of modern plants, the BISP scientist found many of the fossil leaf characters to be similar to mangifera.

An extensive study of the anatomy and morphology of several modern-day species of the genus mangifera with the fossil samples had reinforced the concept that its centre of origin is Northeast India, from where it spread into neighboring areas, says Dr. Mehrotra. The genus is believed to have disseminated into neighboring areas after the formation of land connections between India and Malaysia through Burma after the collision of the Indian plate with the Asian plate. After the land connection was established between India and Asia, the ancestral stock of mangifera migrated east and west and species diversified extensively in the Malaysian and Sumatran rain forests.

C. Botanical Description

Growth Habit. Mango trees make handsome landscape specimens and shade trees. They are erect and fast growing with sufficient heat, and the canopy can be broad and rounded, or more upright, with a relatively slender crown. It is ultimately a large tree, to 65 ft. The tree is long-lived with some specimens known to be over 300 years old and still fruiting. In deep soil the taproot descends to a depth of 20 ft, and the profuse, wide-spreading feeder roots also send down many anchor roots which penetrate for several feet.

Tree. The mango tree is medium to large (10 to 40 m) in height, evergreen with symmetrical, rounded canopy ranging from low and dense to upright and open. Bark is usually dark grey-brown to black, rather smooth, superficially cracked or inconspicuously fissured, peeling off in irregular, rather thick pieces. It can live well over 100 years. Cultivated orchards are kept at 20-30 ft.

The Philippine mango tree often reach 15 to 18 m (50 to 60 feet) in height and attain great age. The typical Manila mango tree is large spreading and evergreen with a dense crown, early-ripening. The tree has a rounded canopy ranging from low and dense to upright and open.

Foliage. Mango leaves in general are dark green above and pale below. The leaves are alternate, with no stipules, simple, leathery, oblong-lanceolate to linear. Leaves are variable in shapes like oval-lanceolate, lanceolate, oblong, linear-oblong, ovate, obovate-lanceolate or roundish-oblong depending on variety. The upper surface is shining and dark green while the lower is glabrous light green. The midrib is pale and conspicuous with many prominent light colored horizontal veins distinct. The length and breadth of full-grown leaves varies from 12 to 45 cm and 2 to 12 cm, respectively, depending on variety and growth, 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.

The color of young leaves generally vary from variety to variety, generally being tan-red, amber, pinkish, yellow-brown in color. As the leaf grow, its color changes from tan-red to green, passing through many different shades until it becomes shiny dark green above, lighter below, with yellow or white venation at maturity. Emerging leaves on new growth flushes are may appear wilted. One or two growth flushes occur per year, with flushes placed sporadically across the canopy of a given tree. Leaves may persist several years.

The leaves appear in flushes. They are flaccid and pendulous when young. The leaves have fibers and crackle when crushed. They strongly smell of turpentine (some cultivars do not smell). The leaves contain considerable amounts of mangiferin (xanthone).

Root. The tree forms a long unbranched long taproot (up to 6 to 8 meters and more) plus a dense mass of superficial feeder roots. Feeder roots develop at the base of the trunk or slightly deeper; these produce anchor roots and sometimes a collection of feeder roots develops above the water table. The fibrous root system extends away from the drip line. Effective root system of an 18 year old mango tree may observe a 1.2 m depth with lateral spread as far as 7.5 m.

Flowers. Tiny (1/8-1/4"), yellowish or reddish flowers are borne in inflorescences which appear at branch terminals, in dense panicles of up to 6000 minute flowers. These flowers respire a volatile substance, causing allergic and respiratory problems for some persons. Few of the flowers in each inflorescence are perfect, so most do not produce pollen and are incapable of producing fruit. About 25-98% of the flowers are male, depending on cultivar, and the remaining hermaphroditic. Hermaphrodite and male flowers are produced in the same panicle, usually with a larger number of the later. The size of both male and hermaphrodite flowers varies from 6 to 8 mm in diameter.

Panicles that arise later in the bloom season or in shaded parts of the canopy tend to have more hermaphroditic flowers. Panicles are initiated in terminal buds 1-3 months prior to flowering, triggered by low temperatures or seasonally dry conditions. Mangoes are distinct from most fruit crops in that chemical application is used to promote flowering and fruiting. Ethephon, KNO3 and naphthalene acetic acid (NAA) are used to either induce flowering, or enhance fruit set or the proportion of hermaphroditic flowers.

Pollen cannot be shed in high humidity or rain. Fertilization is also ineffective when night temperatures are below 55° F. Mangoes 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.

Inflorescence. The inflorescence is a many-branched panicle borne at shoot terminals, 2.5 to 16 inches long (6.4 to 40.6 cm), possessing many very small (4 mm) greenish white or pinkish flowers. The inflorescence is a narrowly to broadly conical panicle depending upon cultivar and environmental conditions during its development. The color of the panicle may be yellowish-green, light green with crimson patches or with crimson flush on branches. The branching of the inflorescence is usually tertiary, rarely quaternary, but the ultimate branching is always cymose. Each panicle bears 500 to 6,000 flowers of which 1 to 70 percent are bisexual, the remainder are male depending on the cultivar and temperature during its development. Both male and bisexual flowers are borne on the same tree. The flowers are radially symmetrical, and usually have 5 petals, streaked with red. There is usually only 1 fertile stamen per flower; the 4 other stamens are sterile. The flower has a conspicuous 5-lobed disk between the petals and stamens.

Fruits. The mango fruit is an irregularly egg-shaped and slightly compressed large fleshy drupes. It varies considerably in size, shape, color, presence of fiber, flavor, taste and several other characters depending on variety. The fruits grow at the end of a long, string-like stem (the former panicle), with sometimes two or more fruits to a stem. The fruits are 2 to 9 inches long. They range in size from 8 ounces to around 24 ounces. The quality of the fruit is based on the scarcity of fiber and minimal turpentine taste.

Each mango has a single compressed-ovoid seed encased in the white fibrous inner layer of the fruit. The large, flattened, kidney-shaped central stone contains one or more large, starchy embryos, and can constitute up to 20% of fruit weight. 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.

The skin is gland-dotted and at maturity its color exhibit different mixtures of green and yellow shades, with red/orange blush depending on cultivars, and is thicker than usual for drupaceous fruit. The skin contains irritating oils, particularly in unripe fruit. The leathery skin is waxy and smooth. It is inedible and contains a sap that is irritating to some people.

The flesh of a mango is peach-like 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 flesh may vary in quality from soft, sweet, juicy and fiber-free in high-quality selected (clonal) varieties to turpentine-flavored and fibrous in unselected (wild) seedlings. This flesh is rich in vitamins A, C and D. The mango flesh is sometimes astringent (turpentine-like), and can have fibers extending from the endocarp (stone). The acrid juice, with turpentine like smell, present in the stalk or sometimes in the fruits, is due to myrcene and ocimene.

In the Philippines, mangoes are generally harvested from December to May depending upon climatic conditions and variety. Although the fruit will ripen on the tree, commercially it is usually picked when firm and green for shipment to market. The crop is considered mature when the shoulder of the fruit broadens (fills out) and some fruits on the tree have begun to change color from green to yellow. Prior to this external color break, the fruit is considered mature when the flesh near the seed changes color from white to yellow.

Mangoes should be picked before they are fully ripe, at which time they soften and fall. The fruit bruises easily and must be handled carefully to avoid damage. They are ripened at room temperature and then refrigerated. Mature mangoes keep fairly well under refrigeration for two to three weeks at 50 to 55°F

D. Mango Cultivars

There are hundreds of mango cultivars distributed throughout the world, of which Asia and India have over 500 classified varieties have evolved and have been described and 69 species mostly restricted to tropical regions. Perhaps some of these varieties are duplicates with different names, but at least 350 are propagated in commercial nurseries. The highest diversity occurs in Malaysia, particularly in peninsular Malaya, Borneo and Sumatra, representing the heart of the distribution range of the genus. The natural occurrence of all the Mangifera species extends as far north as 27° latitude and as Far East as the Caroline Islands. Wild mangoes occur in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sikkim, Thailand, Kampuchea, Vietnam, Laos, southern China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon and Caroline Islands. Maximum species diversity exists in western Malaysia and about 28 species are found in this region.

However, in the Western Hemisphere, a few cultivars derived from a breeding program in Florida are the most popular for international trade. Locally, many cultivars are used and often seedling trees are grown as a backyard food source. The Horticulture Research Unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research and Education Centre of the University of Florida, together maintain a germplasm 125 of mango cultivars as a resource for mango growers and breeders in many countries.

Apart from numerous seedling varieties, more than a thousand vegetatively propagated mango cultivars have been reported. Most of these have originated as chance seedlings and propagated asexually.

Important mango cultivars in major producing countries are listed in the Table below.