What's Blooming Week of December 11? The Nam Doc Mai Mango Tree

‘Nam Doc Mai’ Mango (Poison Ivy Family)
Mangifera indica ‘Nam Doc Mai’ (Anacardiaceae)
Origin: Only found in cultivation; originally selected in Thailand.

Sometimes people plant seeds from extremely delicious fruits purchased at the store or received from friends. After years of lovingly caring for the young trees and finally witnessing the miracles of budding, flowering, and fruit set, the elation of picking the ripened fruit is quickly followed by the puckering of lips and spitting. How could the fruit taste nothing like the fruit the seed came from? The answer is that most of the superior fruits -- the buttery avocados and fiberless mangos -- do not come true from seed. They are all reproduced vegetatively, or cloned.

Take Hass avocadoes. Every single Hass avocado you have ever eaten (or will eat) come from the same tree. The tree’s dead now, but it used to live in a mailman’s yard in Southern California, Rudolph Hass. Over the years, countless cuttings have been taken and grafted to root stock, becoming countless clone trees. Then cuttings can be taken from those clones, and it goes on and on, until you have countless groves of the same tree. But you need a piece of a tree to get a tree that makes the fruit, not a seed from the fruit. These plants are called “cultivars,” or “cultivated varieties.” Many of them are patented by the growers who selected them.

Planting a seed results in “fruit of unknown quality.” Despite the taste, it is not a waste of time. Some fruits, like Meyer’s lemons, come true from seed. Others, like lychees, are usually delicious from seed, and many production trees are grown that way. And then there’s the best reason of all: if it weren’t for people growing fruit from seed, we would have no cultivars, no Hass avocadoes or Nam Doc Mai mangoes. Our Nam Doc Mai is flowering in the Tropical Fruit Garden right now, and if we have a kind winter we should have delicious fruit in late March.

Text:  David Troxell