Wild mango species now growing at the Fairchild Farm include one looks like a potato; another that resembles a beige baby watermelon; a third filled with “pockets of honey” and a fourth smells like durian, that Asian fruit so hard for North Americans to appreciate because they cannot get past the aroma.
But one day, you may prefer these to Nam Doc Mai, the Fairchild, the Keitt or even the Edward. That’s because they are being experimentally grown and hybridized by Richard Campbell and Noris Ledesma (a newly minted PhD) in order to expand the flavor, disease resistance and marketability of South Florida’s favorite fruit, Mangifera indica, whose seedlings have included Tommy Atkins, Julie, Kent, Haden and a long list of other cultivars.
This morning, mango growers from Florida and around the tropical world listened to news of the Garden’s mango breeding efforts at the launch of the 23rd International Mango Festival.
Of the 69 edible species of Mangifera in Southeast Asia, Campbell and Ledesma have successfully grafted (often using not one but two rootstocks sandwiched together) and grown 14 wild forms not scientifically cultivated previously. Now they are hybridizing these species with familiar cultivars of Mangifera indica such as Rosiegold and Angie. The pair is working with partners in Guatemala, Peru, and the Dominican Republic who are testing the trees under different conditions, looking for good size and color, increased productivity and the ability to flower without a drop in temperature.
As Ledesma and Campbell have worked through the trials and errors of the horticulture of wild mangos, they have launched another effort with Eric Von Wettberg of Florida International University. This summer, they are overseeing work by three Mexican university biochemistry engineering students, who will quantify such nutritional compounds as antioxidants and vitamins found in the skin and pulp of four wild species: Mangifera casturi, M. odorata, M. zeylanica and M. lalijiwa. Not only will this research help develop the boutique mango industry (down to 600 acres of groves in Miami-Dade County from 3,000 before Hurricane Andrew in 1992) but serve conservation as these are on the Red List of endangered species.