Did you know that in India, mango orchards cover roughly 33 percent (1.08 million hectares) of the total area under fruit cultivation? In a hectare of land you can grow thousands of trees. And each tree bears, thousands of fruit! I will leave it to you to calculate how many mangoes the country produces! It’s no wonder that the subzi mandis (vegetable and fruit markets) get flooded with mangoes in summers.
Forget the fact that the country produces millions of mangoes, do you know how many varieties there are? Thousands! Some of the popular ones are Alphonso, Dassehri, Banganapalle, Langra, Safeda, Neelam and Chausa. With so many varieties in the country, people have created varieties with fancy and romantic names, like Husn-e-Ara and Jehangir.
The different varieties are also due to experiments in grafting where a bit of the stem of one variety is cut and another variety is placed over it. It is exactly like breaking a bone and the doctor sets it right by putting splints and tying it up.
The first such experiment on mango breeding was carried out in 1911 by two biologists, Burns and Prayag. Their purpose was to develop varieties possessing regular fruit-bearing habits, good fruit quality, and a good yield that is disease resistant.
The most commercially viable variety today is the Alphonso and Dassehri varieties. The Alphonso originated in Ratnagiri district in the state of Maharashtra while the Dassehri from village Dassehri near Malihabad in the state of Uttar Pradesh. A 150-year-old ‘mother tree’ is found here, said to be one of the oldest and first in the line of Dassehri trees.
Malihabad near Lucknow is more famous for another reason. Hazi Kaleemullah Khan has an 80-year-old mango tree that bears 315 different varieties of mango. All in one tree! Now that’s what one calls fruitful!
In a period of 10 years Khan managed to graft 315 varieties ranging from Tota to Alphonso. The diverse varieties also protect the tree from being infected by mango diseases, which are mainly variety specific.
Can you envisage 315 varieties in a single tree? Perhaps not, but you can certainly see most of it if you visit the International Mango Festival that takes place in New Delhi every year. Every variety big and small is displayed for your viewing pleasure.
And when I mean big and small I mean it literally. They range from fruit weighing two kilogram each to the smallest at two gram. And if the sight of these juicy fruits makes your mouth water, you can also try them out and enjoy the pulpy flesh as the juices flow down your hand, for that’s how kids really enjoy eating this fruit.