The common mango tree is the most widely planted and well-known member of the genus Mangifera. Designated by botanists as Mangifera indica, the tree is most famous for its delicious fruit, which is enjoyed by people all over the world. Mango trees are also grown ornamentally in yards large enough to accommodate their impressive size.
Common mango trees are quite attractive. They have dense, evergreen crowns, full of lance-shaped leaves, arranged alternately along the stems. Their yellow or white flowers are small, but attractive, and born on long magenta stalks. The fruit are large and come in a multitude of colors, from nearly purple to orange to bright red. The fruit are not only relished by humans; many wildlife species, especially mammals, feed heavily on the large fruit.
Mango trees grow quickly, and like most other trees that do so, they require direct sun exposure. They have moderately high water needs, but once established they are moderately drought tolerant. The most frustrating problem associated with ornamental use is the species’ tendency to shed branches, flowers and leaves on a nearly constant basis, thereby creating rather significant litter problems. Additionally, their branches are susceptible to damage in high winds.
The common mango tree is one of the tallest fruit trees in the world. While most are between 30 and 50 feet tall, exceptional specimens may exceed 100 feet in height. Mangos also boast impressive crown spreads, which usually have diameters of about 50 feet, but 125-foot-wide trees are not unheard of. Mangos have massive trunks, which may have circumferences in excess of 20 feet.
Mangos live relatively long lives by fruit tree standards, which is part of the reason they are capable of reaching such immense sizes. Several trees are known to have produced fruit for three centuries.
Origin and Current Distribution
Common mango trees were originally native to portions of Burma, India and Pakistan. They are thought to have been domesticated around 2,000 B.C. By 500 A.D., the tree had been introduced to the Philippines and scattered locations in Southeast Asia, and within the last 500 years, the tree was introduced to Africa and Brazil.
India is the world’s leading producer of mangos – they produce approximately 63 percent of the world’s total crop. Other important mango-producing countries include Mexico, Pakistan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Mangos are an edible fruit; but like most other members of the sumac family (Anacardiaceae), they possess urushiol in their outer skin. Urushiol is the same chemical found in poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), pacific poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) and poisonwood trees (Metopium spp.), and it can cause a serious allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. Accordingly, it is important to wash mangos thoroughly before consuming them.
Urushiol is also found in the sap of the plant, so it is wise to handle freshly cut wood with gloves. Because mangos produce an abundance of urushiol-laden smoke when burned, the wood of these trees should never be used for grilling, fireplaces or outdoor fires.
The Family Tree
The genus Mangifera contains nearly 30 different described species, although some authorities only consider about 10 of these to be valid. Some of these species, such as the white mango (Mangifera caesia) are common and grown commercially, while others, such as the Kasturi (Mangifera casturi), are of no commercial importance and are extinct in the wild. Many of these mango relatives produce edible fruit, but some are dangerously poisonous before ripening.
One of the most interesting members of the genus is the Kwini (Mangifera odorata). An aptly named tree, the Kwini can often be smelled before it is seen in its forest habitat. The tree produces a distinct, pleasant fragrance all year long, but it becomes especially strong when the tree flowers.