For the Love of Mangos – Hawaii
By Noris Ledesma
Curator of Tropical Fruit
At first bite I knew it was something special, this little mango with red and yellow highlights. The flavor was off the charts, a combination of berry and spice and the deep sweetness of the tropical sun. I learned that it was from Hawaii, selected decades ago upon the lava shores of our 50th state. And now I traveled to Hawaii to learn first hand about the island and its people, the agriculture and hopefully their passion for the mango. I was invited by The Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers as a keynote speaker for their annual conference to speak on my favorite subject, "For the Love of Mangos" - sharing my experiences with the much appreciated tropical fruit. I traveled with Leila Wailani Werner, our own native Hawaiian, who introduced me to the local flavor and insight of the islands, as a first-timer.
|Hawaii has had very good imported mangos since 1950, and since then horticulturist have worked to introduce potential selections of mangos to Hawaii. University of Hawaii has introduced cultivars from Florida and has also made their own selections. Local nurseries have rescued this collection, and introduced new selections from India, and Thailand.
We visited Frankie Sekia's Nursery. Frankie is a long-time friend of Fairchild Garden. Frankie’s nursery has developed a reputation for unusual plants and exotic fruit. Frankie and his lovely wife live in Waimanalo, Oahu. His place is located in a delightful tropical location - high green vertical mountains that appear to melt into the clouds, and where Rambutans (Nelphelium lappaceum), durians (Durio spp), abiu (Pouteria caimito), Langsats (Lansium domesticum), mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) and some Mangifera species that are part of his collection and used as a mother plant for his nursery.
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 Hawaii, 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 the islands.
Most mangos on this island are grown in dooryards and home gardens. Although commercial production has been attempted, acreages remain small, and as a result there is limited commercial success. At the conference, we discussed with growers the potential of our Floridian cultivars for the area, including “Fairchild”, considered resistant to anthracnose and favored for humid areas. The Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association is structured with chapters on each island, which gave me the opportunity to explore mango land.
We visited some of the most important mango growers in the Islands, and still I can feel the sea breezes blowing. Some of the views reminded me of Tairona Island, Colombia, on the Pacific Ocean. In fact, I felt particularly at home with the coconut trees lining the coast. Most of the agricultural areas now grow mangos where sugar cane once grew. The use of land changed and new development started creating small complex farms. No more than 10-acre plots are now used for farming, and the price of land is still very expensive. Labor is the other problem on the island. It is difficult to get people to the island to do the farming.
The Rapoza mango is one of the favorite choices for the small mango industry in Hawaii, because the red color and generous size of the fruit. Rapoza was selected by R. A. Hamilton, and J. H. a progeny of ‘Irwin’ seedling grown at the University of Hawaii's Poamoho Research Station in the mid-1970s. It produces large, attractive, excellent quality large red fruits weighing 25 to 35 ounces. It is generally late bearing. The fruit matures over a long period, mid-July to October. It has good flavor, excellent disease resistance and good appearance.
Ah Ping, Gouveia, and Mapulehu, are the most common mangos in Hawaii. However, Haden is still the dominant cultivar, as well as dominate backyard variety across the islands.
October is late for mangos to be still hanging from the trees. I had the opportunity to see local green mangos, mainly White Pirie, being sold in China town. Leila showed me the house she used to live in when she was little, remembering the big ‘Haden’ tree in the backyard that her mom used to make jam. Still, at 92-years of age she asked her daughter to get some mangos for her, and keep some preserves to enjoy in times when they are not in season.
Strolling and driving through the lush 400 hundred acres of Ho’omaluhia Park, located in Kaneohe, Oahu, I was looking for the oldest mango tree on the island. This park was private land prior to it being a park and has been open to the public since 1982, and has many of the old trees. 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 these polyembrionic mangos were called “Manini”, or common mangos, and many 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 remain at the garden, dating to the 1900’s.
I was pleased to see that mango thrives so well in Hawaii. Hawaii is a lovely place with contrast of people, culture and beauty. Mangos continue to be a favorite fruit in Hawaii, and they have to work with the climatic factors that often adversely affect mango production. Mangos that are more susceptible to anthracnose can make the future for the suitable mango industry in Hawaii with the different microclimates on the island.
Fairchild, Mallika, Nam Doc Mai, and Manzanillo are already growing in Hawaii and in demand. We shared some propagation experiences and I suggested some changes that may help them to improve their success.
So, aloha and thanks for your continuing support of our travels and quest to capture the Love of Mangos in lands from near and far. Follow up our expedtitions in the mango land: