Plant 313

Mangifera indica L. (Anacardiaceae)


Native to southern Asia, the mango spread through this region approximately 1,500 years ago and reached Africa about a millennium ago. During the last few hundred years it has spread to the Americas and Australia, and is now found, often as an invasive, in all tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world.

The mango is grown for commercial fruit production and fruits can be eaten fresh, dried, pickled or cooked. About 25% of global mango production is processed into juices, chutneys and sauces. Mangos are higher in vitamin C than citrus fruits.

Mango trees grow up to 30 metres tall, and with a canopy of similar breadth. The taproot can reach depths of six metres, whilst wide-spreading feeder roots also send down many anchor roots. They are long lived, with some 300-year-old specimen still fruiting.

The sap is a potent irritant, and often capable of blistering the skin. Moreover, the vaporised essential oil of the flowers can cause respiratory difficulties in some people, making their eyes itch and swell.

New leaves appear periodically and irregularly on a few branches at a time. They are yellowish, pink, or red when new, becoming dark-green and glossy as they mature. Full grown leaves can be more than 30 cm long and persist for up to five years before being shed.

Flowers are borne in large, terminal panicles to 40 centimetres long, with up to 4,000 individual, tiny yellowish or reddish flowers; 25% to 98% of these are male, the rest are hermaphrodite. Flowering is triggered by low temperatures or seasonally dry conditions. They have many pollinators, but self-pollination also occurs.

Fruits normally reach maturity in four to five months and show great variation in form, size, flavour, texture and colour; they can vary from light or dark green, to yellow or yellow-orange, to bright or dark red. The flesh ranges from pale yellow to deep orange. The seed can be monoembryonic (produce a single seedling) or polyembryonic (produce more than one seedling).

Trees fewer than ten years old may flower and fruit regularly every year, but older trees tend to fruit biennially, this may involve the entire tree or just some of the branches. Branches that fruit one year may 'rest' the next.

The leading exporters of mangos are the Philippines, Thailand, Mexico, India, Indonesia and South Africa. Chief importers are the United Kingdom and France, which absorb 82% of all mango shipments.

Further reading

Morton J 2013. Fruits of warm climates. Echo Point Books & Media.

Rojas-Sandoval J and Acevedo-Rodríguez P 2014. Invasive species compendium: Mangifera indica datasheet. CABI.

Louisa Hall