The Wild Gardener

Being a vegetarian, my wife is one of those imaginative people who are always on the lookout for new fruits to bring to the table. A few years ago, the local food co-op was featuring some ripe mangos, and Jean bought five to use in desserts. The fruits were about 6 inches long with a reddish skin, speckled with black, and possessed sweet and juicy light-orange flesh, plus a large flat seed.

The seeds wound up in the compost heap and that would have been that, especially because the time was January, and even in Western North Carolina nights were cold. So it was with great surprise that a few weeks later, I saw a green shoot rising from a bed of kitchen scraps and, upon investigation, found it to be a mango seedling, its germination prompted by the internal heat of the compost heap.

The Mango (Mangifera indica), from mango, the Hindu name for the fruit and fero, to bear, first appeared somewhere in eastern Asia, where it’s been under cultivation for more than 4,000 years. Between A.D. 632 and A.D. 640, a Chinese traveler, Hwen T’sang, brought the tree to the outside world; and by the 1700s, mangoes were grown under glass by most of the nobility of Europe. The following passage is taken from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in 1850:

“The mango is recorded as having been grown in the hot-houses of [England] at least 160 years ago, but only within the last 20 years have gardeners learned it’s a fruit capable of being brought to perfection in England. The first, and we believe the most successful attempt, was made by the Earl of Powis in his garden at Walcot where he had a lofty hot-house 400 feet long and between 30 and 40 feet wide constructed for the cultivation of the mango.”

Obviously our local mangoes — at least in the colder areas of the country — will not be grown for the fruit, but merely as a fascinating houseplant.

The seeds (or pits) are rather perishable and will not tolerate much drying. Seeds kept at temperatures lower than 50 degrees F do not germinate at all well, so don’t attempt it if the fruit has been refrigerated for long periods of time. Wash the pit well of pulp, and plant it not more than one-inch deep in sterile potting soil or any commercial grow-mix medium. Put the pit in a warm place (the warmer the better), trying to maintain at least 70 degrees. Remember, my first plant germinated in that compost.

When seedlings are 6 inches tall, transplant to a 6-inch pot using a soil mix of good potting soil, composted manure and clean sand, one-third each.

During the summer months, provide plenty of water. But from September to March, let the soil dry out between waterings. In about three years from the time of germination, you can force the tree to blossom by following this watering schedule. A dry atmosphere with plenty of sunlight is the key to flowering. Fertilize every month during the summer months. Provide as much sun as possible and always keep the mango warm with temperatures above 50 degrees F.

As the tree grows, pot into larger containers. You will find that the mango is more attractive in form than the avocado, and the leaves do not brown as easily.

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