Mangifera indica - Mango

Mangos, thought to be native of somewhere in South East Asia, have been in cultivation for well over four thousand years. Due to their ability to live in a variety of habitats, hundreds of cultivars have spread all throughout the tropical world. Some varieties even tolerate short winters and a light frost. Mangos are widely cultivated in tropical Africa, India, the PacificIslands, throughout tropical regions of Latin America, and in the warmer parts of Australia, California and Florida.  

Mangos vary greatly in fruit size, texture and quality, ranging from smaller than an apricot to five pound grafted varieties. Most mangos have a large seed covered in fiber. Superior Mango varieties are often considered to be those with less fiber and a smaller seed. Seedless varieties do exist as well as varieties with extremely small, thin seeds.  Although mangos can be found in a variety of tropical climates, in Panama they seem to thrive best in the dry tropical regions of the Pacific coast where there are two alternating wet and dry seasons. Often the origin of the Mango will determine its climate and soil preference, however, varieties adapted to the wet, humid tropics can be grafted onto a rootstalk from a dry adapted variety, and vice versa. Grafting mangos is beneficial for many reasons. A tree grown from seed can take twenty five years or more to bear fruit, and when it finally does, the quality of the fruit cannot be ensured. Additionally the seedling tree grows up to be an extremely large tree, with branches so high up it is often difficult to harvest all of the fruit. Grafted mango trees are dwarfed and will begin to bear fruit as early as two years after grafting. It can beneficial to remove the first flowers on a grafted tree so the tree can save its energy. Additionally, with grafted trees, one cultivar can be cloned onto a suitable rootstalk thus ensuring the quality of the fruit. Because grafted trees are dwarfs, they can be planted closer together and their branches can be trained laterally so as to enable easy harvest.

Mangos are related to both Poison Ivy (Rhus sp.) and Cashew. Some varieties have been reported to have highly irritant properties. The sap of some species has been reported to cause blistering of the skin and inflammation of the eyes. Breathing the smoke of burning leaves and branches or even standing under the canopy of some mango trees can cause irritation. Thus it is important, as always, to treat Mangos with moderation, and become familiar with unique characteristics of the many different varieties.

Anacardium occidentale - Cashew


The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is a tropical evergreen tree that produces the cashew seed and the cashew apple. It can grow as high as 14 m (46 ft), but the dwarf cashew, growing up to 6 m (20 ft), has proved more profitable, with earlier maturity and higher yields.

The species is originally native to northeastern Brazil. Portuguese colonists in Brazil began exporting cashew nuts as early as the 1550s. Major production of cashews occurs in Vietnam, Nigeria, India, and Ivory Coast.

The cashew nut, often simply called a cashew, is widely consumed. It is eaten on its own, used in recipes, or processed into cashew cheese or cashew butter. The shell of the cashew seed yields derivatives that can be used in many applications including lubricants, waterproofing, paints, and arms production, starting in World War II. The cashew apple is a light reddish to yellow fruit, whose pulp can be processed into a sweet, astringent fruit drink or distilled into liquor.

Commercial growers in the 21st century cultivate cashews in warm, humid climates across the globe, with Vietnam, Nigeria, India, Brazil and Indonesia among the top producers of 23 cashew countries. Cashews are harvested by hand.


Both the apple and the nut can be eaten. The apple is sweet, juicy and highly perishable. The quality and edibility of the apple varies from variety to variety. Although the apple can be eaten out of hand, it has a somewhat astringent quality and is best utilized in juice, wine, or preserves.


Parts of the nut are highly toxic when raw and are typically treated with heat, either boiling or baking, before used for human consumption. The nut in itself is not toxic, but the double shell surrounding the nut contains a dermatogenic phenolic resin, urushiol, a powerful irritant also found in poison ivy, another member of the Anacardiaceae clan. A few word of advice: don’t try to shell the raw seed with your teeth. One should take the cautionary measure to process cashews (especially if baking) in a well ventilated area as it could prove hazardous to to breath accumulating fumes associated with baking the seeds.


The Cashew is a relatively fast growing tree, suitable for pioneer and erosion control planting. Although the tree can reach heights of forty feet, they can begin fruiting at fifteen feet, within a few years of seed germination. Closely related to Mangifera sp., Cashew thrives in similar climates. Although it grows fast and has fairly prolific in fruit production in the humid tropic, it produces much more in a region with a marked dry season.

Cashew grows easily from seed. Seed can be washed, air dried and stored for up to a year, maybe more. It is beneficial to avoid transplanting the Cashew as it has a delicate taproot which can be easily upset. Best results are achieved by planting the seed directly in the ground, ideally above a large pit backfilled with organic compost.

When ripe, the seed (or nut) appears at the end of an engorged stalk, shaped like a pear, which is referred to as the Cashew Apple, or Maranoncriollo. The stalk swells fairly rapidly, in hot weather, when the cashew nut reaches maturity.

The cashew is very tolerant of poor soils and fairly resistant to wind and salt spray, thus is an excellent species to be cultivated in coastal areas. Due to its soil adaptability, shallow root system, fast growth rate, and useful fruit and nut production, the Cahsew is an good candidate as a pioneer species for agroforestry systems, interplanted at high densities with nitrogen fixing trees, especially in situation where erosion control and soil improvement is needed.When established the tree proves to be very drought tolerant, which can be trimmed as needed to accommodate for longer lived, superior tree crops.

Pseudospondias microcarpa - African Grape

Related to Mango, Cashew, and Pistacio (among other notable species). Pseudospondias microcarpa, or Offass, is known in English as African Grape. The species is distributed throughout countries of Central West Africa, including Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Zaire. I took this photo in Gabon.

The tree produces an edible fruit, the wood is soft and used for canoes, and the bark yields a red dye. 

Additional common names include: Akatani, Akataw’ani, Bagambanimpyata, Doleke, Dowei, Dueke, Emiri, Ka-dibia, Kata’wani, Kataw’ani, Kekerakuchi, Muziru, Okika, Okika aja, Onyangba, Osunyane, Pohn, Sunyan, Tamia.

I took the photo below in Gabon, Central West Africa. 



Pistacia vera, Pistachio, Pistache

Pistachio is a member of the Anacardiaceae family and a close relative of Cashew, Mango, and  Spondias spp., among others. Pistachio is native to the Middle East where, not long ago, there were extensive forest populations of pistachio trees on hills and mountains from Lebanon to Northern Iraq and Iran, some of these stands may still persist. Local tribespeople are said to collect from wild trees in Afghanistan and Iran.

The tree is suited to a hot, dry climate and require a long hot summer for fruits to mature. Additionally they have a high chilling requirement.

Pistachio have been used as long ago as 7000 BC. In the first century AD the pistachio was introduced by Syria to Italy as a food crop, its cultivation subsequently spread throughout Mediterranean countries. Today, major Pistachio producing countries of the world include Greece, California, Lebanon, Syria, India, Spain, Cyprus, Italy, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey, and Australia.

Pistachio trees have a long life-span, 700 year old trees have been recorded, they are slow growing and prefer a full sun environment and deep, well-drained soil. They are fairly tolerant of wind. Pistachios have the unique ability among commercial tree crops to grow in a wide variety of soil conditions ( stony calcareous, highly alkaline, acidic, saline, etc. ). This being the case, however, they cannot tolerate wet or damp climates. Wind and rain during pollination can reduce fruit-set.


Pistacia lentiscus - Mastic

Pistacia lentiscus is a member of the Anacardiaceae family, relative of such well-known food crops as Mango, Cashew and Pistachio. P. lentiscus is a shrub or tree that grows in the dry rocky areas of Mediterranean region, from Morocco and the Iberian peninsula in the west through southern France and Turkey to Iraq and Iran. It is also native to the Canary Islands. The word mastic derives either from the Greek verb mastichein (“to gnash the teeth”, origin of the English word masticate) or massein (“to chew”). Masticar is the verb “to chew” in Spanish.

It is a tough plant, which can be found growing as a tree or shrub, or even almost as a vine when emerging from dense shaded understory. The plant is resistant to heavy frosts, exposed coastal growing conditions, and able grow in a very wide range of soils. Unlike other species of Pistacia, this one retains its leaves throughout the year. This characteristic, in addition to its attractive appearance, makes it a popular native mediterranean, drought tolerant landscape species.

People in the Mediterranean region have used mastic as a medicine for gastrointestinal ailments for thousands of years. Dioscorides wrote about the medicinal properties of Mastic in his classic treatise De Materia Medica. Mastic oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Aside from its various cosmetic (toothpaste, shampoo, soap, lotion) and culinary uses (many), Mastic is also used in the production of high-grade varnishes.

The fruit is a drupe, first red and then black when ripe, about 4 mm in diameter.



Pistacia lentiscus