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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Mango





Mangos (Mangifera indica) grow in our yard at Estacion Biologica. The mango is not native to Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, where we are located, nor to Nicaragua. The species is native to southern Asia, although I personally suspect the first mango came to America when Columbus first stepped on tierra firme. We did not even plant the trees on our property; they were planted during a prior administration, with different criteria. Nonetheless, we have left the trees, and they bless us with their shade, year-round greenness, and now that it is mango season, one of the two periods each year, these trees bless us with their fruit.

Mangos are ripe near the end of the rainy season, in October, and again near the end of the dry season, in April.

mango in Laguna de Apoyo Spanish School

But there are several things to say about mangos. Good things.

1. Monkeys like mangos. Our cook, Juana, recited all the nearby mango trees in which she had seen monkeys eating mangos recently. The howlers around us mostly eat leaves but many fruits provide what must be important nutritional supplements to their diet, each in its respective season. The howler monkey populations on the north side of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve have rebounded considerably in the past several years, as has the general quality of the forest. But the fact that howlers seek out and eat ripe mangos suggests that this species may serve a surrogate for some other diet component that is no longer abundant in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.

2. Mangos are not extremely invasive. In Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, there are trees in the forest, and wild seeds will reproduce if given the right conditions. But rampant invasions of forest or even open areas is just not happening here. In contrast, another species-neem (Azidarach indica), another south Asian tree, is spreading like wildfire in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. This topic deserves an entirely separate blog entry, which should come soon.

3. Mango trees provide excellent environmental services. They grow relatively fast, produce strong but not particularly invasive roots, and maintain leaves year-round. They protect the soil from dehydration and from erosion by wind and by rain. There are many locally native candidate species which provide similar services, but not many native species would score far better in some commonly encountered situations in our climate range.

4. Although not a high-quality source, the species produces firewood. The Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is and will continue to be for some time a source of firewood for many poor peasants in the area. Other species are highly prized, but a felled mango limb would find its way to a cook stove.

5. Mangos are cheap. As a rule, I don't buy mangos, instead I wait until our trees produce ripe fruit. Then I eat many mangos. At peak season, the fruit is practically given away, because who pays for mangos when they are free in your yard? Mangos rot in the streets and fields where they fall, so many are produced at this time.

6. There are lots of different kinds of mangos. Our cook, Juana, delights in detailing the distinctions between them. She is a humble woman, never learned to read, but she knows her mangos. Some are sweeter, others hold a special aftertaste, some a bigger, others firmer and more appealing when served in slices. She knows them all.

7. People like mangos. They are a remarkable nutritional source, and very tasty to the human palate. Many children benefit from boosts of vitamin A intake during the mango season in Nicaragua. I had five mangos today, as my own little testimony that people like mangos.

We don't recommend that people plant mangos as a natural forest component, but since they are here, we are enjoying their produce, while benefiting from the forest cover that they provide. When they decline with age, we will be replacing them with native species. Meanwhile, come by and enjoy a mango with us-and the monkeys! (and the birds, and the kinkajous, and the bees, and the tourists, and....)

Apoyo Spanish School Nicaragua
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