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Pirates Brought the Mango to Florida 200 Years Ago

July 11, 2013

This weekend, July 13-14, 2013, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden will celebrate two centuries of mangos in Florida at its 21st annual International Mango Festival. The garden is located at 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables.

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500 Years of Florida Flora Firsts:
A blog series from Florida Department of Agricuture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry

The fruit originated in Southeast Asia and India. It is referenced in Hindu writings from 4000 B.C. Buddhist monks cultivated it and consider it to be a sacred fruit because it is said Buddha himself meditated under a mango tree. Humans migrating from Asia to the Middle East, Africa and South America carried the seeds around 300 or 400 A.D. Pirates brought mangos to South Florida about two centuries ago. Grafted varieties were introduced in 1889 by David Fairchild, for whom Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden is named.

In this article in the Miami Herald,Fairchild’s Curator of Tropical fruit, Noris Ledsma, tells the story of the mango in South Florida and the crucial role the Sunshine State has played in its production. She notes that, while all of the commercial varieties currently grown were developed in Florida, 99 percent of the mangos in U.S. supermarkets are now imported from South America and the Caribbean. In fact, the U.S. is the world’s largest importer of the fruit.

IF

© 2011 National Mango Board and used by permission of the National Mango Board. All rights reserved.

Because mangos are a tropical fruit, commercial production in the U.S. is limited to the states of Florida, California, Hawaii and the Territory of Puerto Rico. While the mango industry thrived in South Florida for some years after the fruit’s introduction in the early 1900s, freezes, urbanization, hurricanes and foreign competition have all taken their toll. Today fewer than 1,000 acres remain in production, mostly growing fruit for sale at local farmers’ and specialty markets. Backyard trees, though, are common throughout South Florida. Says Ledsma, “Every household with a yard in South Florida should have a mango tree.”

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