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Summer’s Bounty of Mangoes

Who likes mangoes? I am talking about mangoes so fresh the juice runs down your forearms to your elbows and makes everything sticky.

Afternoon rainstorms, clear water and warm weather are a few of my favorite things about summer in beautiful Southwest Florida. But at the top of the list is mangoes. Yes, mangoes! Who remembers their first mango? Was it on a trip to Hawaii, Jamaica, spring break in Mexico, your aunt Lucille’s house in Florida? Nothing says summer more than a ripe mango.
With summer in full swing, let’s learn a little about the favorite fruit of many worldwide.
We have Portuguese sailors to thank for bringing the mango to this part of the world.
To be more precise they brought it to Brazil in the 1600s, but that was just the beginning of its journey to Florida. The mango made it to Barbados next, and then by 1782 it arrived in Jamaica.

It took 51 more years for the first mango to reach Southwest Florida, when Dr. Henry Perrine planted the first mango trees on Cape Sable, a wild place then and still wild today. (Cape Sable is 99 miles south of the Sanibel Lighthouse by water, in the Everglades National Park.) According to accounts after Dr. Perrine passed away, his mango trees were not kept up and died off.

In the late 1800s a grafted mango was brought to Florida by Dr. David Fairchild. It was the beginning of many different mango species and commercial mangoes that are produced all over the tropical world.

Worldwide there are more than 600 different kinds of mangoes. In Southwest Florida you can find at least 100 varieties on Pine Island, the epicenter for mango production in the area. Pine Island has been growing varieties of mangoes for more than 100 years. Each variety has a different name and a story to go along with it. Some of my favorites are Angie, Edwards, Alphonso, Kent, Haydon and Glenn.
(In celebration of the mango, each summer Pine Island hosts the annual MangoMania Tropical Fruit Fair. It has been canceled for 2020.) 

For the ultimate mango experience, travel to Pine Island as soon as you finish reading this article. Your taste buds will thank you. Many of the growers of these tantalizing fruits are on the north end of Pine island; as you travel north on the island, you will encounter fruit stands with handwritten signs advertising mangoes for sale. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, you can travel the side roads on the island and find people selling the fruit in their front yards. Often there will be an honor box for leaving money to pay for your mangoes.
Enjoy your fruit quest and don’t forget to bring plenty of towels to wash your elbows—and remember it’s never too late to thank a Portuguese sailor.

Capt. Brian Holaway is a Florida master naturalist and has been a Southwest Florida shelling and eco-tour guide since 1995. His boat charters visit the islands of Pine Island Sound, including Cayo Costa State Park, Cabbage Key, Pine Island and North Captiva.