I feel privileged to have met Richard Mueller, a humble man who grows mangoes and strawberries in Granada Hills. When I asked him where he acquired his mango trees, he replied, “I grew them from the seeds of supermarket mangoes.” He has numerous mango seedlings growing in a makeshift nursery and several fruit-bearing mango trees in his back yard, one specimen having reached a height of nearly 15 feet. I had never seen a mango tree as tall as Mueller’s.
The fruit of his trees is of a quality equal to or better than that of store-bought mangoes. Yet a certain amount of patience is required to witness the development of the mango from sprouted seedling to fruit-bearing tree. “From the moment you plant a seed, seven years will elapse before you see fruit produced,” Mueller said. Grafted mango trees, on the other hand, may produce fruit in three or four years.
In its native Southeast Asia, the mango tree has a status that is even more elevated than that of the apple tree in North America. Not only is the mango the most popular fruit tree from India to Malaysia, with hundreds of varieties grown; the mango is honored in ancient Hindu literature and modern festivals, its flowers used in religious ceremonies. From India to the Philippines, mangoes are the major source of vitamin C in the diet of millions of people.
Mangoes can be as small as plums and as large as elongated cantaloupes, weighing more than 5 pounds each, regardless of fruit size. The skin of the mango is consistently remarkable for its many colors – red, purple, orange and green.
In its tropical habitat, a mature mango tree can grow as tall as 90 feet, with a spread of more than 100 feet. Such a tree will bear up to several thousand fruit each year.
In Southern California, mango trees are usually not much bigger than tall shrubs. The reason mango trees stay small in our area has to do with our low rainfall and humidity and cold temperatures, especially at night, as compared to the prevailing climatic conditions in the tropics.
The greatest nemesis to mango tree growth in our area is frost. Young trees can be killed by freezing temperatures. Older trees will be damaged by a freeze but will probably survive. Mueller’s trees did not appear to have suffered any ill effects from this past winter’s cold spell. In addition, mangoes have a reputation for being able to grow in a wide variety of soil types.
The flower clusters of the mango are unusual. Most mango flowers have both male and female parts, but some flowers have male parts only.
Some people develop dermatitis after contact with mango juice or sap. This is not surprising when the botany of the mango is investigated: It belongs to the same plant family as both poison oak and poison ivy.
Mueller has other assorted horticultural successes. He has a stout tomato plant of the “Champion” cultivar, which, planted last spring, produced fruit throughout the winter and continues to do so. I can attest to the high quality of fruit just picked from the plant. He also has grown a naval orange tree up a trellis; now he can have his oranges and save space, too.