Curator of Tropical Fruit Noris Ledesma and Fairchild's own native Hawaiian Leila Werner travel to Hawaii in search of the rich flavors and fruit of this Pacific island getaway. Follow their adventures as they blog from across the globe from our 50th state.
By Noris Ledesma
My first glimpse into the primeval land of Limbang, Sarawak, Malaysia; its people, and ultimately the wild mangos of Borneo, woke up the hidden memories from my past in the Colombian Amazonian. The heat and the humidity made everything so green and exuberant. I was still jet-lagged from my travels, when I came to my senses within this foreign, yet hauntingly familiar landscape. The different shapes and textures of the leaves and fronds brought me back to the realization that I was indeed in the tropics, just in a different place and time.
Wild mangos (Mangifera species)
I had to come to Borneo to better understand the origin of mango by first-hand observation of its wild relatives that grow in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Further I wanted to delve into the Bornean jungle from a fruit perspective, where durian, langsat, rambutan and of course wild mangos share the same territory. The expedition to Borneooffered the opportunity for a more in-depth look at Asian tropical fruit, and a chance to solidify contacts in the region. Although we were outside of the peak season for wild mangos (Mangifera species), I was able to see, taste and experience a surprising diversity of native fruit.
In order to get my boots muddy in the native forest, we were required to take long boat trip up river. This was the best part for me because I was able to get away from the pavement and deep into the real Borneo. The river went from a wide channel down to narrow passages shrouded in deep shade. As we continued into the jungle we approached the interior highlands, with their stands of remnant jungle, where the forest giants remain to carry one back to the times of old. An orangutan stood watch in the branches overhead, announcing our arrival upriver. They maintained their guard day and night from their watchtower of leaf and bough in wild mangos and durians that grew along the water’s edge. We stop by to visit some of the local tribes to learn their appreciation for the wild mangos.
The orangutan building its nightly nest in top of the wild mango tree
We arrive in an indigenous village and I immediately take note of the many pajang (Mangifera pajang) trees in the back yard of the traditional long house. In this long house about 20 families share the same roof. The village was almost empty. An old man covered with tattoos, his ear lobes elongated as was the custom of times past, spoke to me in his native tongue. The translator tells me that it’s the rice season, and the younger and able-bodied are busy with the harvest. I ask for the children and he explains that they go on Monday to school and come back home during the weekend. It is too far and just the little ones stay home.
The long house is surrounded by durians, langsats, and rambutans. It’s easy to find the pajang tree here; they are everywhere. I was taken by a friendly lady; smiling, she showed me something quite different. This was a binjai tree (Mangifera caesia), the same tree we found in our last expedition toIndonesia (Bali), where they call it “wani”. She explained that she sold last season’s entire crop for a good price. I was happy for her and her village, but saddened to have missed the fruiting.
We walked about an hour into the forest with her to see one of the village’s mother trees. Two more ladies from the village joined us, walking beneath the dense and pleasant canopy. They start showing us all the different fruits and plants that they eat in the forest, including different type of ferns, jungle mushrooms and even some types of worms (just like back home in Colombia). They ask me if I want to see a very rare durian that fruits from the base of the trunk and roots. I immediately realize that they are speaking of the kura kura durian (Durio testudinarium). We have a kura kura growing within the Whitman Fruit Pavilion that was collected years earlier quite near to this vey spot. The kura kura is one of the most endangered durian species inBorneo and I was thrilled to get a chance to see it in the wild.
Kura kura durian (Durio testudinarium).
We crossed little streams and in a dense bamboo thicket a majestic tree jutted up to an astounding height - we stood at the foot of the mother mango tree for the village. No one spoke, we were in awe. We admired the tree for a few minutes, trying to identify the species – still no one dared utter a word. This forest giant had a presence unlike anything that I had ever witnessed. I ask some of the local people to get a branch from the tree. No one wanted to climb it. It was too risky they said. They discussed about it and finally my friend Yair Aron stepped up, ready to get it for me. The locals helped him up using to a rope to pull him to the top of the tree. He finally reached the first branch and was able to cut the sample. We still are not sure if it’s a Mangifera quadrifida or Mangifera griffithii. It had no fruit, but the locals described it as a small deep purple skinned fruit, than grows in dense bunches with an orange flesh – and smooth and very fragrant. The description coincided with Rancha rancha than Dr. David Fairchild described in some of his reports and Dr. Campbell revisited in his last expedition to Borneo in 2000.
Mother mango tree 'Rancha rancha' (Mangifera quadrifida)
We left the tree for the river before the tide went down. We were close to the South China Sea and even quite a ways up river we were tidally-influenced, so we had to go as soon as possible. Meanwhile our local guide reinforced to us that there were many rare mango trees close to the border with Brunei Darussalam, a stone’s throw to our north. She described how she uses the wild mango. “The young ones are best for salad”, she explained. Besides the fruit, she also uses the new leaves of the pajang as a vegetable. Borneo is well known for its diversity of plants. It is considered second only to the Amazon in importance as a tropical rain forest; yet what is its fate and that of the wild mangos of Borneo?
Oil palm monoculture (Landing Miri). The destructive march across Borneo
It is, I fear, a race against time, as the oil palm continues its destructive march across Borneo. We have much to learn about the wild mangos. In the coming years we hope to use this genetic resource as fruit in their own right, as ornamentals and also as breeding stock. But, will they still exist? I wish some action could be taken before it is too late; to make sure that the orangutan has a place to build its nightly nest and fruit to eat; that we have the opportunity to further study and advance with the wild mangos and other fruit of Borneo; and that my new friends in Borneo have the opportunity to live in harmony with their mango mother tree.
The art and adaptation of the mango have taken our Florida mangos to new frontiers. The Japanese have been growing Miami’s very own ‘Irwin’ since the 1980s under glass in heated greenhouses at north latitudes equivalent to central Minnesota. It is a long way, both in distance and mind set from northwest Miami – home of the ‘Irwin’ – to the temperate forests of Saporo, north Japan. Yet, here it grows, in such a small space, adapted by the Japanese grower to their needs. Just as the art of bonsai was brought to Japan by Chinese monks looking to expand their religion into the kingdom of Japanese, the modern Japanese growers use highly detailed pruning and shaping of the mango to gain acceptance of the mango as a fruit of the Nobles.
This was my second trip to Japan and this opportunity I was invited as a guest speaker at the Fruit Growers Association meeting held in Miyazaki. More than 100 mango growers attended the meeting and my role was to give advice on new cultivars for the Japanese market.
I was still filled with good memories from my first visit to Japan in 2009, where I had the opportunity to see the history of ‘Irwin’ grown on the southern Japanese Island of Okinawa. Okinawa is comprised of 150 islands, where farming is molded to its subtropical climate, which is a little cooler than our winter in South Florida. Okinawa is located in the Temperate Zone and has four seasons. The annual precipitation is over 2,000 mm, and during the winter, the temperature can drop to zero or below. That is the reason mangos are in greenhouses to protect the trees from heavy rains and cold. I met in that time one of the pioneer mango growers in Okinawa, who was an immigrant from Taiwan and brought the seeds that are still used today. They keep using them as a rootstock. He was a master pruner and his 30 year old mangos have been pruned every year, removing wood to rejuvenate the canopy and have more points for production. In Okinawa they do not induce blooming, as it occurs naturally during the cool winter season.
By 2009, the annual production in Japan was about 1,460 MT per year, and has increased by 50%, through the use of modern and innovative agricultural techniques that allow them to grow mangos in the snow in places like Soporo in the north of Japan.
Dr. John Yonemoto, a long-time friend of Fairchild Garden, also extended an invitation to Soporo to see his mango operation. Here I am in Soporo, picking mangos in the snow!
The temperature in Soporo, was 4C below zero.Traditional growers leaves two principal branches horizontaly to support the canopy for the rest of their life. This will provide light in the most eficient way acording with him. We had a long discussion about mango managment. The harvest season is in June and the average wholesale price of mangos at the Okinawa central wholesale market is 100 yen/kg.
I really enjoyed this visit to see for myself how the Japanese have been domesticated Florida mangos according with their tradition and cultureultural crops include sugar cane, vegetables, flowers and fruits. Mangoes were introduced to Okinawa in the early 1900s, and since the technique for mango production using plastic greenhouses was established, mango production has been increasing year by year. Recently, mangos have become an important part of the Okinawan horticulture industry. The current mango production in Okinawa is about 1460 MT per year. I thought to myself that this was not mango weather when he told me to be ready in the morning for mango picking. It was dark and gloomy and snow was expected in the morning. I spent the night at his house and his lovely wife prepared dinner for us. In the morning, we walked to the greenhouses and went from a brisk 2C outside to a balmy 35C inside, where the heaters were running all the time. This is mango season in Soporo. They spend $200,000 a year to heat one greenhouse on1/4 acre.
Mangoes are usually harvested from spring through summer in Japan. But they learned how to produce mangos for Christmas when they can get a premium price. Dr. Yonemoto explained to me his research, based on limiting the root system, pruning and training trees from an early age, solar radiation, and temperature.
Limiting the root system can be done by growing trees in containers, or by burying non-woven fabric to limit the root system before greenhouse construction and planting. Planting density is 120 to 240 trees per 1,000 square meters. The first year is spent preparing the rootstock; second or third year in grafting and growing the tree. By year five, trees are harvested for the first time. In the 7th year, the targeted value of production is 2000 kg / 1000 square meters.
The Japanese are making a mango bonsai of sorts; mango trees that exhibit their nature within a limited growing space. To accomplish this, the mangos trees are carefully pruned every year, removing wood to rejuvenate the canopy and have more points of production.
He leaves two principal branches horizontally to support the canopy for the rest of their life. This will provide light in the most efficient way. They still have many challenges such as thrips and anthracnose in the greenhouses.
Dr. Yonemoto has divided the greenhouses into two different groups to control environmental conditions to have two mango seasons, one during the summer and the other for Christmas. He increases photosynthesis by applying carbon dioxide in the enclosed greenhouse environment. He also is embedding piping underground to run cold snow melt water during the summer months, and water from the hot springs in the fall and winter. Although controlling the temperature remains a challenge, they believe that it is ideal to grow mangos through the use of local natural energy resources and an abundance of sunlight.
He uses honeybees for pollination. Each box contains approximately 12,000 bees. Besides honeybees, Dr. Yonemoto also uses flies for pollination; they are cheaper but less effective. Flies have a shorter flight distance and less efficiency than bees. They are not actually beekeepers; they purchase the hives every season and reuse the survivors for next season. In Soporo there is limited sunlight available.
Dr. Yonemoto uses a creative way to increase light. A white square of paper will do the trick. In order to attain a full red color they carefully expose the fruit to the sunlight until they get full ripeness and they can be harvested. The target is to get 100% red color that brings the premium price. These are techniques we have developed for cultivating delicious and beautiful mangos. Labor is very intensive, and the dedication and detailed effort are impressive. They wait until the mango drops into a net, and farmers harvest fruit as soon as possible to prevent injuries. Every fruit it's evaluated before going to the packing house.
Every single fruit is carefully wrapped and transported to the packing house. Quality control determines the rate of fruit to specific market. The sorting machine they use in the packing house has an infrared scanner to measure sugar content and select color, as well as pulp consistency to assure quality of the fruit. It's an expensive machine and capacity is very low. But high quality! The machine sorts 1,500 fruit a day and costs about $500,000.
Mangos at the Central wholesale market are 100 yen/kg. Look at this, 2 mangos for $180.00 in Tokyo. The local mangos in Japan are very expensive, but they satisfy urban consumers by replacing the low quality imported fruit. Mango varieties from all over the world reach Japan. The most prevalent variety is Carabao from the Philippines. Tommy Atkins comes from Mexico, and Nan-Doc-Mai from Thailand.
Why Irwin? I asked them. They said we love fruit that are juicy, fresh and fully ripe. The Irwin cultivar is juicy with a sweet aroma. Irwin mangos can be harvested when fully ripe. In their experience, Irwin is the only mango which naturally falls from the tree when fully ripened. Dr. Yonemoto is testing other cultivars. I had an opportunity to see some of the trees he brought from Fairchild’s collections years ago, including Nam Doc Mai, Rapoza, Lippens, Mallika, and our Turpentine as a rootstock. He is also growing avocados, sugar apple, persimmon, passion fruit, dragon fruit, bananas, and carambola.
We flew to Miyzaki from Soporo to meet the growers at the conference. In the morning we all went on a field trip to visit a mango farm. Miyazaki city is situated at latitude 32 degrees north. Winter in Miyazaki is cold, and minimum temperatures in December and January can be as low as 2C and sometimes there is snow during the winter. Mango production in Miyazaki started in 1986. At present, the total cultivation area for mangos is more than 55 hectare. The volume of production is 700 tons. This value includes young groves whose volume of production is 13 tons per hectares.
Mr. Kazunori Yokoyama is showing us his farm to share his secrets on how he can produce more than 10% the top quality mangos in Japan "the egg of the sun". He works with his family, no workers. Their main production is based on the variety 'Irwin', like the rest of the people in Japan. The rootstocks used are a polyembrionic type from Taiwan. Some of traditional growers do not induce blooming, as it occurs naturally during the winter. Mr. Kazunori is developing a protocol to synchronize blooming by pruning, low the temperature, heating soil, and water stress. He sprays phosphorus to decrease nitrogen for the trees to slow down for blooming. The terminal leaves are stripped five inches from the bud tip to synchronize blooming.
l winter season. Trees are heavily mulched and intensely managed by pruning. Traditional growers leaves two principal branches horizontaly to support the canopy for the rest of their life. This will provide light in the most eficient way acording with him. We had a long discussion about mango managment. The harvest season is in June and the average wholesale price of mangos at the Okinawa central wholesale market is 100 yen/kg. I really enjoyed this visit to see for myself how the Japanese have been domesticated Florida mangos according with their tradition and culture.They heat the water for irrigation, and control growth temperature to induce blooming as well.
My visit to Japan gave me a lesson of high quality agriculture standards. Clean agriculture, dedication, discipline, and love for agriculture. It may be impossible in our modern days to achieve these lines especially with the modern mango industry which is based in production and low prices. The growers are subsidized by the government, and this is the only reason they still survive.
I am indebted to all my friends in Japan for the opportunity to experience what has been done with our Floridian mangos. These small, manicured trees symbolize the high level of patience and creativity of the Japanese grower. It is a life time of care; an opportunity to grow mangos out of the mango zone in South Florida and into the unknown of the northern United States and beyond. We can use some of these experiences to apply to other models where quality is the goal. Costs, in both time and money are high, but the reward is a labor of love that only the mango can command.
Field Tour 20th Hawaii International Tropical Fruit Grower
September 26, 2010
We depared from the hotel in the early morning to the National Tropical Botanic Garden located in the Lāwa`i Valley, on the south shore of of Kaua`i. It is a garden paradise, transformed through time by the hands of a Hawaiian Queen, a sugar plantation magnate and most significantly by an artist and an architect. The endless topography display a large canopy of rainforest trees with tall curving roots growing near bronze mermaids, a grove of swaying golden bamboo, a cut-flower garden and tropical fruit trees.
Dr. Diane Ragone, the Director of the Breadfruit Institute, gave us a tour of the bread fruit collection. We were shown selected accessions that will be propagate using in vitro. The majority are seedless, good to eat ripe or green. There were many different shapes of fruit and leaves.
Diane opened one of the mature fruit for tasting and described her favorite way to eat it. "I don’t like to bake it. Instead I boil it with little water, salt, garlic and coconut milk. It's delicious!", she said.
Our tour took us next to a river under the shade of some big breadfruit and papyrus plants. The garden has been open to the public since 1971, and they have a small tropical fruit collection that includes caimito, lychee and some mangos. ‘Mami K’; ‘Carrie’, ‘Nam Doc Mai’, ‘Julie’ and ‘Edward’ mangos are found in the greates numbers in their collection.
Other native plant collections are displayed as well including rare and endangered species that are on the verge of extinction in the wild such as Pritchardia limahuliensis, loulū, a native fan palm in the Palm family, found only in Limahuli Valley; Brighamia insignis, ālula, a member of the Campanulaceae, or Bell Flower family.
We ended the day visiting the nursery at the National Tropical Botanic Garden, where conservationists and restoration biologists are working to preserve species native to this habitat. The facilities are also used as a Plant Rescue Center.
We had lunch at the Kauai Nursery where Lelan Nishek the owner of the company made his presentation. His nursery was rebuilt three times due to damage by hurricanes. Kauai Nursery and Landscaping has been in business on the Island of Kauai for over 30 years. Throughout the years, the company has grown from a small nursery to a large-scale operation, which now sits on a 70-acre site. Rapid development of the Hawaiian Islands brought jobs on the islands of Hawaii, Oahu, Maui and Lanai. After hurricane Iniki, which struck Kauai in 1992, there was a concentrated effors towards the rebuilding of the nursery and the island. Since that time the island of Kauai has continued to grow and KNL has been fortunate to be involved in many great projects. They have an impressive operation with over 130 employees.
Milan Rupert the manager of the nursery showed me the mango trees they use as mother plants for propagation and suggested that I use them for a pruning demo for the group.
The Hawaii International Tropical Fruit Grower meeting was a great experience; I had the opportunity to learn what is happening in the horticulture business of the state of Hawaii, get to know the people of Hawaii and learn their culture. I want to thank everyone involved for the opportunity, especially Ken Love and the association committee for the initial invitation.
There were about 200 in attendance at this meeting and Dr. Diane Ragone, the Director of Breadfruit Institute started with an informative presentation about breadfruit. She is working with chefs to develop potential value-added products. Breadfruit has a good potential as flour for human and animal consumption and perhaps for baby food.
They are working on different projects for to alleviate world hunger using breadfruit as a food crop. They started a project in Honduras using their first in-vitro plants. They also are trying to get funded for a project in Haiti. They started a pilot program and recently sent 50 plants to plant 4 acres with breadfruit.
The Breadfruit Institute has the largest breadfruit collection in the world with 270 trees and 120 varieties. We will visit their collection as part of the field trip tomorrow morning.
After Diane's presentation we had a fruit panel discussion which showed me that sustainable horticulture seems to be the way Hawaiian growers want to follow. Politics have to be addressed including price of land, regulations and importation of other products to the island that make it impossible to compete. The price of oil and cost of fertilizers are making many growers think seriously about organic techniques, where these costs can be minimized.
Eating local has been the rallying cry in Hawaii for some time and it is this movement that keeps this association strong. They think that by providing fresh products and good quality fruits they can have viable alternatives for the islands. Novel and value-added products have to be part of the business model on a small and large scale. Sustainability doesn’t happen in one day and they encourage working together to make it happen.
After the panel discussion, the Agriculture Research Service (USDA) presented updates about guava mitigation requirements for shipping to the mainland. Irradiation and protocols are required. This severely limits the small scale growers.
Tracie Matsumoto presented an update on lychee management including pruning and foliar fertilization to synchronize lychee flowering in different locations on the island. She presented historical observations and records of the temperature and rainfall patterns related to different stages of development of the fruit as a way of looking for strategies to improve the crops.
Longan growing using potassium chlorate and recommendations were part of the updates as well as suitable longan cultivars for the island. ‘Biew Kiew’ and ‘Egami’ were recommended.
Marisa Wall presented some avocado updates moving towards replacing imports with local introductions and selections. ‘Sharwil’, ‘Linda’, and ‘Local Hass’ were evaluated. Local avocados contribute just 30% of total demand in Hawaii. They are working with the cultivars presently in the islands. They want excellent quality and market appeal for the local market.
The Germplasm Repository (USDA) at Chapman Field, Miami, moved the Florida avocado collection to Hawaii to protect it against Laurel wilt disease. They have the trees in quarantine and under observation. They will be planted in 6 months if they pass quaranine.
They also presented a talk on a native Hawaiian berry which is good for juices and jellies as an alternative for sustainable fruit production in Hawaii. At the end of the afternoon they had updates on papaya and dragon fruit.
In the afternoon, two local chefs and growers discussed alternatives to promoting their products in a panel discussion. Communication between the different parties is important and chefs have to know the products available to be able to prepare and promote their final product. Chefs see local greens as a good image booster for their public. Heart of palms also has had a good impact on the culinary industry. Being novel is the key.
I closed the afternoon with my final presentation about growing and marketing specialty crops using the Florida model. Mango, jackfruit, canistel, sapodilla are the fruit with the biggest impact in our program. I generated a lot of interest in our genetic collection and business model.
After the wrap up, a small group visited a mango orchard in Moloaa. Marta Nhitlock and her husband invited us to their farm. Moloaa Organica’a farm has 23 acres, which is pretty big in Hawaiian terms. Their best mango is ‘Rapoza’ as they feel that Hawaiians like red and large mangos. They are looking for other alternatives for the late season. They are trying other mango cultivars in their farm. ‘Golden Glow’, ‘Fairchild’, ‘Cac’, ‘Julie’, ‘Ice cream, ‘Zill’ and ‘Brooks’ are all planted as alternatives.
They want me to see their mangos and advise them on pruning. As it was getting dark we pruned a tree as a demonstration and ran to join the rest of the group for dinner and the auction.
The auction was very entertaining, with books, fruits, and horticulture items auctioned including some of Fairchild publications to support the association.
Tomorrow we have to be ready for the field tour which will be the end of my trip.
Kaua’i is the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain and some of the areas in the Na Pali Coast remain accessible only by boat, helicopter or on foot. From the plane the scenery was magnificent, a vast sea of green. We rented a car and looked around Wailua, an old city with houses growing mango trees in their backyard.
We arrived to the hotel to get ready for my presentation. Today is the Hawaiian Tropical Fruit Grower Conference and I am the keynote speaker.
Farmers, horticulturists and people from the industry were present at the opening reception. I recognized some of the attendants as intrepid globe trotters such as myself in search of tropical fruit adventure. A Kahu: Kauilani Kahalekai (Hawaiian priest) opened the ceremony with an enchanting prayer. She came to bless our meeting asking Hawaiian Gods to help farmers to find innovative ways to grow plants and interact with them. After her prayer we had a welcome from the Mayor of the island and Richard Johnson, the president of the association. I was scheduled to speak on my favorite subject, "For the Love of Mangos" - sharing my experiences with the much appreciated tropical fruit.
My talk was well received and afterwards I received some of the local mangos—‘Rapozas’, ‘Nam Doc Mai’ and ‘Keitt’. ‘Keitt’ from this part of the island has color and grows so differently that they actually look like a different cultivar. It probably has to do with the minerals in the rocky soils and the strong influence of the oceanic climate.
When I travel, I use my expeditions to learn what is happening with tropical fruits all over the word. Cacao has long been an interest to me. Fairchild’s International Chocolate Festival is gaining more popularity each year, and the Fruit Program is becoming more involved in this event. We visited The Hawaiian Chocolate Company in Kalilua Kona to learn more about cacao. They offer tours every day and they are part of the program for cruise ships when they make port in the island.
Cacao, which is native to South America, was first planted in Hawaii by German physician William Hillebrand in 1850, according to state records. Though long studied as a plantation crop, the big challenge has been making money from the plant, which is well suited to Hawaii's climate but can be tricky to grow and requires expertise in processing into chocolate.
The Hawaiian Chocolate Company tour started with a chocolate tasting and a visit to their small planting. Farms in Hawaii are no more than 15 acres. They have 350 trees that are approximately 6 years old. They are ‘Criollo’ types from seed. The owner explained that they are an old fashion factory and probably the smallest in the world. They produce the chocolate from the tree straight to the store. There are just 5 people running the company.
The cacao pods are harvested and placed in wood boxes, then the seeds are removed to begin the fermentation process. They don’t have enough trees to supply their factory, so they have 13 more growers in the island that supply them beans.
The factory is small and the entire process takes just one month. They were quick to point out that they are having fun and enjoy their work. Despite Hawaii being the only place in the United States with commercial cacao production, there are only a handful of cacao farmers with a combined 50 acres of trees. The largest grower, Dole Food Co., has about 13,000 trees on 20 acres in Waialua on O'ahu's North Shore. There are fewer than 30 farmers growing cacao in the state of Hawaii, and perhaps there is closer to 100 acres of cacao planted.
Hawaii is far from attaining prominence as an origin of specialty chocolate the way Napa Valley is known for wine, but agriculture researchers are trying to give the fledgling local cacao industry a boost toward that lofty goal.
There have been a couple of attempts to establish big cacao farms with their own factories over the last couple of decades, but they have failed. The price of land is still too high to make it a profitable business.
After visiting the cacao farm we drove north to Waimea so I could give a presentation for growers in this part of the Island. Vicky Dunaway is organizing a chapter for the Hawaiian Tropical Fruit Growers. This part of the island shows its age as lava rock covers the landscape with almost no topsoil. It is dry and looks like the surface of the moon. We passed by the Parker cattle range, one of the biggest in the United States. This is also the site of an observatory where many countries have telescopes pointed to the stars. I would love to see this, but alas it is not open to the public and access requires a better car!
The temperature and humidity change as we arrive into Waimea. The music is different too--there was a kid playing his ukulele on his porch. As I surveyed the areas, I saw some avocados and bread fruit trees. The microclimate changed once again from the other side of the city. When we got to the talk, they had posters and fruit for the new members of the chapter. Vicky introduced me to the group and presented me with a lei as a sign of welcome. This is a tradition in the state, which made me feel really good. I presented to the growers some options to grow in the area based on our experience at Fairchild. The group was small but interesting. There were some growers, but also hobbyists and a few horticulturists in the group. After the meeting, we had to go back to Kona to prepare our early morning trip to Kaua’i.
Before going to Kona, we stopped by the fruit market in Hilo. Ginger flowers and all manner of greens dominated the market. They had some of the local mangos which I was happy to find, along with fresh rambutans and mangostens. It was a nice place for breads and local jellies. We purchased some breads, fruits, green papaya salad and coffee for our trip.
We drove over the mountains along the south coast and up slopes of the island’s volcano. This lovely formation is part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park and the landscape are the results of hundreds of thousands of years of volcanoes and evolution and it is a moving sight indeed. Kīlauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the most massive, offer scientists insights into the birth of the Hawaiian Islands.
My traveling companion Leila suggested stopping by to see the Punaluu Beach to have breakfast. This black sand beach forms a border to the lapping waters of the Pacific - the ocean's vastness is overwhelming. We were looking for the famous Hawaiian green sea turtles and we got to see one. I love animals and breakfast with sea turtles was an experience I won’t soon forget.
Our next destination was Eke Nui Nursery located in Punaluu in the Ka'u Distrit. This is macadamia land, it is dry and also suitable for mangos. Marla Hunter was our contact and her husband Pete was waiting for us. They purchased this property in 1997 and since then they have been propagating mango trees.
They have mother plants growing on their property, some with multi-grafted varieties. They grow only mangos and farm all by themselves. Pete takes care of the mature trees and is building their house and Marla takes care of the nursery. More than 20 different cultivars, including some of the Hawaiian cultivars: ‘Ah Ping’, ‘Gouveia’, ‘Rapoza’ and ‘Mapulehu’. ‘Haden’ is still the favorite mango on the island according to Marla. She is trying to get people to discover other options. They do fruit tastings at the market, but memories are strong with ‘Haden’ in Hawaii as this is the tree that they grew up with.
They had some fruit ready for the market, including 'Mapulehu', a Hawaiian selection with stunning attributes. It comes from an Indian mango seed planted in 1929 and was introduced to the rest of Hawaii and the world at the end of the Second World War. The tree is easy to control, disease resistant and with has good eating quality.
Mangos continue to be a favorite fruit in Hawaii. Climatic factors often adversely affect mango production in Hawaii and lead to poor quality and loss of crop from anthracnose and powdery mildew. They are trying to propagate different cultivars suitable for the different microclimates on the island.
I was happy to see that they are propagating and distributing some of Fairchild’s mangos: ‘Fairchild’, ‘Mallika’, ‘Nam Doc Mai’ and ‘Manzanillo’ are growing and in demand. We shared some propagation experiences and I suggested some changes that may help them to improve their success in propagation. This was a nice stop - to visit someone on the big island dedicating their lives to mangos.
Driving to Kona we stopped by a fruit stand on the street. Jady Bonnington, the owner, had a nice stand selling sapodillas, carambolas, chocolate pudding fruit, avocados and mangos. Jady is putting a lot of effort into educating her customers. She is making her own interpretation signs to introduce her customers to new fruits.
Leila took me to Pu'uhonua o Honaunau preserve, where the royal chiefs established their most important residences. This was a place of refuge for defeated warriors in times of war. The place is dotted with coconuts and noni, used as a medicine.
Our first appointment of the day was to visit Bob Hamilton the owner of Plant it Hawaii located in Kurtistown a few miles from Hilo. Bob and his wife have been farming in this area since 1979. Their main crops are rambutan, longan and lychee.
At the moment, the Hamiltons are busy picking their rambutans. Rambutan is a colorful crop and delicious fruit. I have good memories of Guatemala and Thailand where I had the opportunity to take pictures of and to pick rambutans ready to eat.
Bob has different varieties and shared his favorites with us. He believes pruning is an important horticultural practice to maintain his trees, and uses flowering induction to extend the season. After picking, they showed us their packing house and introduced us to some of the actual challenges of the industry. Their principal customer is Costco, which has been very supportive of the growers.
In order to ship fruit from Hawaii to the mainland, the USDA requires a treatment for fruit fly. This increases the price of the fruit and makes them less competitive in the market. Guatemala doesn’t require this treatment and they can therefore produce fruit at a lower cost.
Plant it Hawaii also has a nursery dedicated to propagating tropical fruit and edible plants. Rambutans, lychees, longan, avocados, bananas, cacao, abiu, passion fruit, carambola, coffee, vainilla and loquats are distributed all over the islands in Hawaii and shipped to the mainland.
With our car full with rambutans, pulasans and mangosteen we visited the only irradiation plant in Hawaii: Calavo. Irradiation is one of the alternatives to treat fruit for fruit fly. Eric Weinert, the general manager of the plant welcomed us. Papayas, potatoes, lychees, longans, star fruits and rambutans are all processed in the Calavo plant. Irradiation exposes fruit to high levels of energy from radioactive isotopes. Low level treatment does not affect food nutritive value or wholesomeness, destroys insects and may extend shelf life. This treatment has been used on many products to get them into the US including mangos. India is one of the examples that use this treatment to bring mangos to our country.
We ended the day enjoing the sunset in the Halema’uma’u Volcano enjoying our rambutans where Pelei the Goddess of the Volcano is said to have dominion over the area.
Today we flew to the Big Island and stayed in Hilo. Hilo gets between 130 and 300 inches of rain a year depending on your elevation, and I can already feel the humidity. This is definitely not a good place to grow mangos. This island has a different character than Oahu. The mountains in Oahu raise suddenly from the ocean; but on the Big Island the volcanoes raise smoothly and you don't even feel the change of altitude.
Hilo is a historic city, with old buildings and numerous historical renovations. We rented a car and went to the hotel. We stayed in the Naniola Volcanoes, a nice old hotel with ocean view.
Sugar cane was the preliminary crop here during the 20th century and Hilo was the hub for harvesting and shipping this cash crop. The use of land started changing with the eradication of sugarcane and the planting of ginger, potatoes and tropical fruits. However, there are still acres and acres of available land for planting.
Our first visit was to the Waile Agriculture Group. They are located in the rainforest in Homonu about 14 miles north of Hilo just above Kolekole Park. Lesley Hill and her partner Mike were waiting for us while their workers were processing an order of palmitos or heart of palm. The property is about 110 acres of tropical fruits and ornamentals. Their main crop is heart of palm to supply elite local restaurants and to ship to other islands in Hawaii and the mainland. Lesley gave us a tour for their fruit collection. They have rambutan, lychee, pulasan, longan, durian, mangosteen, some citrus, start fruit, breadfruit and jackfruit. Jackfruits are use for wind breaks. Big trees provide shade for their ginger production. Close by the main house they have planted a sapodilla relative that caught my attention, with silver shiny leaves and yellow fruit with orange deep flesh. I asked her about it. She brought it from Thailand. I couldn’t resist collecting some budwood for our collection.
That night we had our first meeting with a group of growers of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association. I was invited by Ken Love the Executive Director of the Association to be their key speaker in Kaua next week. The Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association is structured with chapters in each island. They proposed that I speak on the Big Island in Hilo and Waimea before the official meeting.
This is a busy time for the rambutan growers and many of them can’t attend the conference in Kawai. My talk was focused on our own experience at the Fairchild Farm, the different crops we produce and I shared some of our results in terms of promising cultivars. The meeting was at Komohana Extention Complex in Hilo, coordinated by Pete Kincaid and Lesly Hill.
Today we visited Frankie Sekia's Nursery. Frankie is a long-time friend of Fairchild Garden. Frankie’s nursery has developed a reputation for unusual products and exotic fruit. Frankie and his lovely wife live in Waimanalo. His place is located in a delightful location surrounded by high vertical cliffs that appear to melt into the clouds.
Frankie is a third-generation Hawaiian resident of pure Japanese heritage. He attended the University of Hawaii and graduated as a Business Administrator. He became passionate about tropical fruit and decided to establish his own business.
Mark Suiso and a group of his customers were there when we arrived. He set up a fruit display of mangos, jackfruit, salak, sapodilla, abiu, chupa chupa, champedak, dragon fruit and more from his property ready for tasting.
We started with his more recent jackfruits from Malaysia. ‘NG’S Red’ kept my attention with a bright orange flesh, no latex and a good bulb size. The flesh was crunchy with an aromatic flavor. We tried champedak then and in the end some of his mangos. Frankie shared some of his experiences on collecting in Malaysia. His nursery was busy, so his wife had to take care of the business, meanwhile Franky took us to his collection.
His place used to be a commercial pineapple plantation. Every space is a possible location to grow something special in his place. Some of his trees are grown as part of his own collection to be used as a mother plant for his nursery. Rambutans (Nelphelium lappaceum), durians (Durio spp), abiu (Pouteria caimito), Langsats (Lansium domesticum), mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) and some Mangifera sp. have all been collected in his travels.
He showed us his new pineapple hybrid that he developed, and we tasted it. Next to his pineapple was the jackfruit collection. I was looking for the ‘NG’S Red’, and Frankie stopped in one of his trees to show us a hybrid jackfruit. He took his knife off and peeled it in front of us to taste. It was a wonderful fruit, no latex, soft but creamy with an exotic flavor. We collected some of his new varieties. He also has a mango collection and shared with me some of his favorite mangos: ‘Sindhu’, and ‘Arka Neelkiran’. I was interested also in collecting some of the Mangifera relatives that didn’t survive in my last expedition to Indonesia.
The time passed quickly and it was time to return and be ready to pack. In the morning we will leave to big island to explore more about mangos in this part of Hawaii.
Ho`omaluhia Botanical Garden the “peaceful refuge”
Strolling or driving through these lush four hundred acres in windward Oahu, I see that they are very well named as the “peaceful refuge". It has been open since 1982 and has many of the old trees in the city. Ho’omaluhia is one of the five parks of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens.
At Honolulu Botanical Garden I was looking for the oldest mango trees on the island. The exact date of the first introduction of mangos into Hawaii is not known. The first documented date of introduction appears to be 1824, when Captain Meek brought to Honolulu several small mango plants from Manila. Many of this polyembrionic mangos were called Manini or common mangos and many of them still remain in some of the backyards on the different islands. We asked for records at the Botanical Garden and found that 4 trees still remained at the garden, dated to the 1900s.
I was looking for other mangifera species in their records and just one relative appeared in their books: Mangifera zeylanica. We walked the field and here they had 3 big remnant mango trees sharing room with the golden woods. We tried to find the zeylanica , but could not. I was please to be able to see part of the history of the mango at the Botanical Garden. It is a lovely place, where locals come with their family to camp or picnic. The mountains on one side and the valley opens up with a small lake in the middle surrounded by shady mango trees.
We stopped by Whole foods to compare mango prices, and mangos varied from $1.90 to $5.90 per pound. Mango flowering in Hawaii occurs from December to April, and it is already late for me to see mangos in their full season in September. There are still some 'White Pire', 'Keitt', and common mangos at the market.
Driving through the old neighborhoods of the city it was evident that the residents take care of their yards. It is Saturday and a day off for many. Gardening is a big part of Oahu's outdoor lifestyle, where residents enjoy a year-round growing season with dependable moisture brought by trade winds. An astonishing variety of fruits and vegetables can be grown here-due in part to the exotic food plants brought to the island by many cultures. They have limited space and use any opportunity to raise vegetables beds and tropical fruits.
Planting dwarf mango varieties would be ideal for residents in Oahu, some of which can take up much less area but produce large quantities of fruit. There is an interest in promoting this type of mango in Hawaii. Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers invited me to their conference specifically to encorage this idea. Tomorrow will be my last day in Oahu and I am looking forward to see the new mango cultivars available in Frankie's Nursery.
My day ended with a lovely dinner with my friend Catherine Werner and her dauhters. Thank you for sharing with me your memories and favorite mango dessert: mango sprinkled with macademia nuts.