A mango tree’s flowers signal potential for #MuchosMangoes
Flowers have been top of mind this week, and it wasn’t because my social media feed was bombarded by flowers for Valentine’s Day. Rather, throngs of vibrant photos and videos of mango blossoms from the #HermanosCrespos lit up my WhatsApp, exhibiting the last of the late blooms in the south, the new blooms bursting open in the north and the vibrant openings everywhere in-between.
Beautiful mango flowers currently blanket most of Mexico. As we begin to learn more about the early season quality, yields, sizing, and the varietal nuances of the season from the southern regions’ mature fruit (where we’ve been packing for a month now), we are all filled with promise. That is what I love about mango blossoms: they gorgeously signal great possibilities in their abundance. Even though less than 1% of all blooms actually form fruit.
But since no one ever knows which blooms or how many become fruit, the sheer number of the blossoms gives an illusion of sweet hope; that each mango flower could be a luscious and juicy mango. When you see nothing but millions and millions of dazzling mango flowers protruding from the trees like fireworks, how can you not be hopeful?
The southern regions have only a dusting of some late producing orchards currently at the end of blooming. Nayarit and other surrounding regions are in full bloom and the setting stage. Sinaloa has just begun to show its flowers. In each region we grow several different varietals (up to 11 in Sinaloa) and each of the varietals blooms at different points in the season – Ataulfos for instance are early bloomers (early-season producers) while Keitts are late bloomers (late-season producers). The others all fall in-between (mid-season producers), adding to the mosaic of bloomage up and down Mexico’s Pacific Rim. Once the trees bloom and are pollinated, a tiny fraction of the blooms, seemingly randomly selected, sets into fruit and matures anywhere from 100 to 150 days later (about 4 months).
Mango Flowers (Birds & The Bees)
Before we get into pollination, I think it’s important that I give a little insight into the biology of a mango flower – or what I like to call “its xxx parts.” The tree produces large clusters of flowers at the ends of the branches, called panicles. These clusters are about 16 inches long with deep crimson “stems” and tiny off white or pale-yellow flowers. They smell mildly fragrant and sweet. It takes about 2 weeks for a little mango bud to turn into a flower. It can take several weeks for a bud to develop. The flowers open over a period of a few days and the full bloom period (defined by the blooms being fully opened) lasts only a few more days.
Mango trees produce flowers that are both male and female, making them monecious (which means they can self-pollinate and cross-pollinate). Depending on variety and region, each tree has a certain percentage of male flowers while the rest are hermaphroditic (male and female). Most trees average about a quarter of all flowers being male. Most varieties flower once per season over an extended period of time (typically yielding on an ongoing timing of mature fruit) during or near the end of winter or the cold season. “Cold” nights and dry weather are optimal conditions for flowering. If conditions are too cold, the flowers die. Too much wind or rain? They fall off. A certain number of blooms, approximately 99%, are typically aborted by the tree regardless of weather. If the weather is not ideal, the trees can start early or late with the blooming process.
In order for us to indulge in the tropical sweet flavor and texture of a good mango, pollen first needs to be made and the flowers need to be pollinated. The process of pollen creation in plants is called meiosis and most of that process is very scientific and my brain has only so much capacity so I rarely go down that path. From what I can gather from my lay(wo)men understanding, the cells divide and grow in quantity. The pollen gets produced in the pollen sacs which are located on the ends of the male flowers (stamen).
Mango flowers are typically pollinated by self-pollination and cross-pollination. The “selfers” (as I learned that they are nicknamed) are pollinated by the pollen from another flower on the same tree. The “outcrossers” are the ones pollinated by the pollen from another tree.
Wind, butterflies, fruit bats, wasps, flies, beetles, ants, and a myriad of other flying and climbing creatures are the main pollinators of mangoes. Interestingly, honeybees do not love the flavor of mango pollen and are not significant pollinators.
A fun fact is that the clumps and clusters of mangoes on a tree likely point to insects as the pollinator culprit, whereas the sporadic mango hanging is likely wind pollinated.
Fruit Formation (Fruit Set)
Once the flowers are pollinated, less than 1% becomes fruit and takes on the process called fruit set. The fruit set happens after the flower opens and is pollinated and fertilized. It takes several weeks for significant development. Once the fruit has set, it becomes much easier to gauge yields for the season. Before fruit set, it’s a total guessing game.
Like the bloom stage, the fruit setting stage is highly affected by the weather. Despite the desire to bloom in the cold, the fruit setting stage prefers warmer and more consistent temperatures and dry weather. Wet, rainy weather isn’t ideal for healthy fruit development. Heavy rains can damage the fruit, deter it, or cause mold problems. Or if heavy rains occur after the fruit is pollinated, it can wash right off. A lot of quality problems occur when rains occur between fruit flowering and fruit setting stages. Fruit drop, another serious problem, occurs when rains are prevalent as the fruit is in its final setting phase. It literally just drops off the branch or shrivels up still attached.
Once the fruit sets and sticks (as I like to call it), it basks in the sun feeding off the soils (you see why organic is important right?), growing bigger, juicier and more blush tones as the sunlight penetrates the opening between the leaves and imparts lighter and darker color splotches. There is of course a multitude of things that can go wrong during this phase of development, but this article is about mango blossoms and hope, so I’ll stop here.
I will conclude with the fact that a significant number of blooms have been setting (sticking) in all regions and so the potentiality of #MUCHOSMANGOES is very likely to continue through each Mexican region! Stay tuned for the CROP REPORT for the norther regions I will put out once the fruit has indeed set!