Spondias dulcis: A Master of Aliases Exposed!

The investigative staff at Richard Lyons’ Nursery has never seen anything like it. Spondias dulcis has more names than an art thief on the run from Interpol: Pomme cythere in Trinidad and Tobago, cas mango in Cameroon and the Maldive Islands, juplón in Costa Rica, buah long long among the Chinese in Singapore, cajá manga in Brazil, kedondong in Indonesia and Malaysia, ambarella among the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, golden plum in Belize, mangotín in Panama, and jobo indio in Venezuela. Closer to southern Florida, it goes by June plum in Jamaica and Bermuda. The last name gets the nod at our nursery.

In truth, Spondias dulcis is not a fugitive at all. It has lots of common names because of its multifaceted popularity as a fruit source. Originally native to Polynesia and Melanesia, the species’ reputation has led to its distribution throughout the tropics. It was introduced to Jamaica in 1782, and started to be grown more widely there years later when Captain Bligh brought plants from Hawaii. In 1909 a source in Liberia sent seed to the USDA, but it did not catch on as a money crop in the US, possibly because its cold tolerance is just a few degrees below freezing.

The June plum is fairly fast-growing, maturing to the 30-40 ft. range in southern Florida, though more likely to grow 25 ft. taller in its native range. Pollination of its inconspicuous white flowers yields a hard green fruit which often falls off the tree and ripens to a yellow-golden color on the ground. Inside the fruit is a fibrous seed.

Eaten raw, June plum fruits are crunchy, possessed of a pineapple-mango flavor with a bit of tartness. As they get further along in ripeness, they become softer. The fruit’s versatility has led to its being incorporated into a number of food dishes around the world. It is, for instance, made into jams and preserves and used to flavor stews, sauces and soups. It may be eaten with a shrimp paste or combined with chiles and other spices into a snack food. Elsewhere, the fruit is made into a drink in the company of ginger and sugar. It is also used in curries and, when dried, rendered into a spicy chutney.

But the story doesn’t end there. The fruits of Spondias dulcis are reputed to contain a wealth of qualities that promote good health. Among them are Vitamin A to maintain retinal sharpness and to improve wounds, Vitamin B1 and iron to prevent or treat anemia, calcium to fortify the cardiovascular system, sucrose to increase endurance, and antioxidants to counter free radicals. Leaves and bark of the June plum are also said to possess medicinal properties.

This interesting species can grow in alkaline or acidic soils and, so long as a sunny exposure and good drainage are provided, is not demanding. Finally, don’t let the name June plum mislead you; the species fruits almost all year. Richard Lyons’ Nursery carries the trees in 7-gal. containers.

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