Approximately 17 species comprise the genus Spondias.
Although they are most commonly called mombins, names like hog plum, gully plum, Spanish plum and golden apple are also applied to these trees. However, mombins are only distantly related to true apples and plums, so many of these alternative names are misleading.
These trees are primarily celebrated for the edible fruit that adorns most species in the genus, but some species are also used in ornamental plantings.
Growth Rate and Habit
Many mombins grow quite large, and, thanks to their rapid growth rates, they reach these impressive heights quickly. Some, such as the ambarella (Spondias dulcis) and the yellow mombins (Spondias mombins), grow up to 60 feet tall, while others, such as the jocote (Spondias purpurea) rarely exceed 20 feet in height. Other members of the genus, such as the imbu (Spondias tuberosa) remain relatively short, but produce 30-foot-wide canopies. Nevertheless, even the tallest members of the group typically remain somewhat small when planted outside of their natural range.
The wood of many mombins – particularly the fast growing species – is very light and buoyant. Several primitive cultures that live alongside mombins use the wood in the construction of canoes and rafts. Most species grow readily from seed, but some horticulturists grow them from cuttings.
Unsurprisingly given their close relationship, the fruit of mombins superficially resembles that of mango trees. Most species produce green-skinned, fleshy fruit containing a large, single seed, but the taste, texture and size of the fruit varies from one species to the next. Most mombins drop from the tree before ripening; over the following days and weeks, they become soft and more palatable.
While mombins are not yet a particularly popular food crop, officials are taking strides to increase mombin production in several rural, tropical locations. For example, Brazilian officials are hopeful that increased imbu production will provide both a food staple for locals and additional income through overseas sales.
While normally smaller than mangos, some mombins fruits reach very large sizes. Some mombins fruits reportedly grow to more than 1 pound in weight when grown in their native lands.
Several mombins make wonderful ornamental trees. The imbu, for example, is a very hardy, slow-growing tree that can thrive in most soil types and conditions. In addition to the species attractive, densely branched growth habit, they are also highly drought resistant, making them ideal for Californian yards and properties.
Ambarellas are more popular among those seeking quick-growing trees. Though a deciduous species, ambarellas remain handsome through the winter, courtesy of their impressive growth form. Ambarellas will grow almost anywhere mangos do, although they are not quite as cold hardy. Like the imbu, ambarellas require well-drained soils to thrive.
Most mombins produce small, inconspicuous, white to off-white flowers, which add little to the aesthetic value of the tree.
Toxins and Sap
Mombins are members of the family Anacardiaceae, making them close relatives of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and its notorious kin. Accordingly, some species, including yellow mombins, contain the toxic chemical urushiol in their sap. This can cause some who contact the plant to develop a severe rash.