From the Manual of
Tropical and Subtropical Fruits
by Wilson Popenoe
The Red Mombin
Spondias mombin L.
No other species of Spondias
is so extensively used in tropical America as this. In many parts of
Mexico and Central America it is a fruit of the first importance. It
occurs in a wide range of seedling races or forms, and is capable of
great improvement by selection and vegetative propagation. While
scarcely so good as the imbu, the better varieties are pleasantly
flavored and attractive in appearance.
The red mombin is a small
tree, often spreading in habit. The trunk is thick and the branches are
stout and stiff. Its native home is tropical America, where it reaches
a maximum height of about 25 feet. The leaves are 5 to 8 inches long,
with 16 to 21 oblong-elliptic, oblique, subserrate leaflets 1 inch to 1
1/2 inches in length. The purplish maroon flowers are produced in small
unbranched racemes about 1/2 inch long.
The fruits, borne singly
or in clusters of two or three, are quite variable in size and form.
Commonly they are oval or roundish, but they may be oblong, obovoid, or
somewhat piriform. They range from 1 to 2 inches in length, and from
yellow to deep red in color. The seed is oblong, 1/2 to 3/4 inch long,
and rough on the surface. The season of ripening in most parts of
tropical America is August to November.
In most Spanish-speaking
countries this species is known as ciruela (plum), a name which has
been corrupted in the Philippines to siniguelas. In parts of Mexico and
in Guatemala it is known by the Aztec name jocote (xocotl). The common
name in the French colonies is prunier d'Espagne, prunier rouge, and
mombin rouge, and in the British colonies it is sometimes called
purpurea, L. is a botanical synonym of S. Mombin, L.
J. N. Rose 1
describes a number of different forms observed in Mexico. These races
(perhaps species in some instances) deserve further study.
red mombin is abundant in Mexico and Central America from sea-level up
to elevations of 5000 or 6000 feet. The value of the annual crop in
Mexico is estimated at more than $70,000. The fruit may be eaten fresh
or may be boiled and dried, in which latter condition it can be kept
for several months. When fresh it has a subacid spicy flavor somewhat
resembling that of the cashew, but less aromatic. Some varieties are
sour, and others have very little flesh; the best are pleasantly
flavored and have about the same amount of flesh and seed as a very
In Cuba several seedling races are grown. They are
usually distinguished as ciruela roja, ciruela amarilla, and so on. In
Brazil the species appears to be little known. It is successfully
cultivated in south Florida, as far north as Palm Beach or perhaps
farther. Varieties from high elevations in tropical America should
prove slightly hardier than those from the seacoast. No trees have been
grown to fruiting age in California, so far as is known. In favorable
situations they might succeed there if given protection during the
first few winters.
The tree is semi-deciduous. The leaves fall toward the end of the cool
season and are soon replaced by new ones.
character of the soil does not seem to be important. Good trees can be
found growing on shallow sandy land, on gravel, and on heavy clay loam.
A rich, moist, fairly heavy loam perhaps suits it best. Cuttings take
root so readily that large limbs, cut and inserted in the ground as
fenceposts, will often develop into flourishing trees. P. J. Wester
recommends that cuttings 20 to 30 inches long, of the previous season's
growth (or even older wood) should be set in the ground to a depth of
about 12 inches, in the positions which the trees are to occupy
permanently. The rainy season is the best time to do this. The trees
should stand about 25 feet apart, unless the soil be very poor, in
which case 20 feet will be sufficient. No horticultural varieties have
as yet been established. By selecting from the existing seedlings in
tropical America, many good ones could be obtained.
1 The Useful Plants of Mexico,
contributions from the U. S. Nat. Herbarium, V, 4, 1899.