This article is one of a set called "Some Tropical Fruits" printed in Horticultural Notes, dated 1st Sept., 1935. The series was written by Mr. S. E. Stephens who was the Northern Instructor in Fruit Culture. Because of the historic content of this set of writings, we thought it would be of interest to members, especially if one compares its cultural notes with those of the R.F.C.A. fact sheet on Mangosteen. It will be seen that through perseverance and research over the years, all of the so-called 'problems' have been overcome.
The mangosteen belongs to the natural order Guttiferae and is one of the two hundred-odd species of the genus Garcinia, its specific name being G. mangostana.
It may be described as a small tree with deep-green, glistening foliage. The leaves are thick, leathery, and large - 6 to 10 inches long - elliptic oblong in shape. The flowers are polygamous.
Its native home is the Malay Peninsula, and it is reported as being a common tree in the gardens of the East Indies and the Philippines. It is, however, a notoriously difficult tree to establish outside its native habitat, consequently it is little known in Queensland.
Many attempts have been made to introduce the mangosteen into Australian cultivation, but practically all have ended in failure. As early as 1854, seed of this fruit was introduced and propagated in Southern Queensland and New South Wales, but although seedlings were raised then and on numerous subsequent occasions, no record can be traced of any of them having reached maturity.
The first recorded success was with trees raised at the Kamerunga nursery, near Cairns. A number of fruit were imported from Java to this institution in October of 1891, and from the seed obtained, a number of seedlings were raised. However, they proved to be very delicate, and the then-manager of the nursery reported from time to time that their growth was very slow and many were killed when the temperature dropped to 40°to 45°F. When sixteen months old, several were transplanted into the field and were then only 4½ inches high. When approximately eight years old, these trees were only 18 inches to 2 feet high.
Under its native conditions, the mangosteen bears its first crop at eight to ten years of age. Comparison with the Kamerunga trees at about the same age will show how intolerant it is towards foreign conditions. With the example of the Kamerunga trees, it is not to be wondered at that the earlier attempts to acclimatise the mangosteen in Southern Queensland and New South Wales proved failures.
By about 1907, only one tree out of all those raised at Kamerunga remained. In 1910, special attentions to the tree were instituted, mulch, water, and liquid manure being applied at intervals. In 1913, twenty-one and a half years after planting, the treatment was rewarded by the production of a crop of fruit. So far as is known, this was the first tree to produce a crop of the fruit in Queensland.
A short time later, the Kamerunga Station was closed down, but the tenant of the land since that time reports that the tree continued to bear fruit every second or third year until 1929, when an effort was made to move it to another site and, most unfortunately, it died.
Besides the trees grown at Kamerunga, several (one dozen in all) were distributed to private persons between 1891 and 1895, but no trace of them can now be found, so one must conclude they all perished.
About the year 1900, however, two trees were planted at Mossman, and these still survive. The largest of these is now about 12 feet high and carried small crops. There is no record as to when the tree commenced bearing, nor as to the size or regularity of the crops. This year's crop was four fruit only. The tree carried the distinction of being the only recorded bearing tree in Queensland at the present time. The second tree is much smaller and apparently has not cropped, at least during the last two years.
In addition to these two trees, two young ones (seven years and two years old respectively) are growing at Mossman, and one five years old at Cairns. It is quite probable that a few other trees exist in Queensland, but these are the only ones known.
DESCRIPTION OF THE FRUIT
A short description of the fruit - called the 'Queen of Fruits' and the 'finest fruit in the world' by some of its early discoverers - would be appropriate.
The mangosteen is of the shape and size of an apple, 2½ to 3 inches in diameter, slightly flattened between the stalk and apex. The skin is smooth, thick, and somewhat leathery, deep-red to reddish-purple when ripe, with occasional spots of orange-yellow juice which has exuded from a skin injury and hardened on the surface. The bright-green sepals are retained on the stem and encircle the base of the fruit, whilst the apex of the fruit permanently retains the stigmata. On encircling the skin of the fruit with a sharp knife the apex may be lifted off, disclosing several snow white 'quarters', varying from five to seven, filling the red-purple cup. The segments are of the shape and size of those of a mandarin, and their texture has been truly compared to that of a well-ripened plum. The flavour is delicious. The only drawback is that the fruit contains a comparatively small amount of pulp for its size.
In regard to the cultivation of the mangosteen, all authorities concur in the need of a wet but well-drained loam for its successful growth. High atmospheric humidity does not appear to be essential, but a reasonably high temperature is required. Temperatures much below 50°F. appear to be definitely harmful, particularly to young trees.
One of the greatest contributing factors towards the difficulty in establishing the mangosteen is probably the paucity of root development. Working on to roots of hardier and more robust species may overcome this trouble. In America, experimental work has been carried out with several species, and some promising results have been obtained. Probably at least one out of the two hundred-odd members of the genus will be found suitable for the purpose, then possibly the mangosteen will be met with in Queensland more frequently than it is at the present time.
An introduced allied species has very frequently been mistakenly called the mangosteen in Queensland. This is the Cochin-goraka (G. xanthochymus). It is a much hardier variety of Garcinia than the mangosteen, and was acclimatised here with very little difficulty. Quite a number of these trees are to be seen in North Queensland, scattered here and there in ones and twos. Under favourable conditions they grow strongly and carry heavy crops of fruit. The trees usually assume a conical form, the branches growing almost parallel with the ground and radiating from a central stem. The leaves are long, glossy, and pendulous. The fruit is borne in clusters on the smaller branches, is a bright glossy green when young, and golden-yellow when ripe, and about 2½ inches in diameter. The apex is pointed and the axis of the fruit is usually offset from the centre. The skin is thinner and softer than that of the mangosteen, but on being encircled with a knife the same formation of pulp is observed. In this case, however, the segments are yellow, just a shade lighter than the skin. The flavour is distinctly acid, although the degree of acidity varies in different seedlings, leading one to surmise that a good variety of the fruit could probably be bred.
F.M. Bailey lists three species of Garcinia as being indigenous to Queensland, viz., G. mestoni, G. warrenii, and G. cherryi. The first of these finds its native habitat on the slopes of the Bellenden Ker range at an altitude of about 2000 feet. Its fruit are similar in shape and characteristics to G. mangostana, but vary a good deal in size from 2 inches upwards, sometimes being larger than the mangosteen. Its colour, skin, and flavour resemble G. xanthochymus.
The habitat of the other two indigenous varieties is given as the Coen district. No description of fruit of G. warrenii is given in Bailey's Queensland Flora, but he describes G. cherryi as having yellow, oval fruit 1½ inches long and slightly exceeding 1 inch in diameter. F.J. Cherry, who discovered it and after whom it is named, remarks about it that "it does not taste badly, and birds and insects are very fond of it."
DATE: November 1984
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