Originating from the Malayan Peninsula in Southeast Asia, the Mangosteen tree bears fruit that are highly esteemed in its native region.
It is a slow-growing tree to heights of up to 30 m (98 ft), though is more commonly 6 to 12 m (20 to 40 ft) tall with a straight trunk and a low branching structure, forming a densely leafy pyramidal crown. The bark is dark brown, lightly flaking and when wounded exudes a sticky yellow latex.
The leaves are oval, 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in) long, reddish-pink when the emerge, age to lime green then dark glossy green and have a thick, leathery texture. They are arranged in pairs along the ends of the branches and remain on the tree throughout the year.
The flowers are four-petaled, 3.8 to 5 cm (1.5 to 2 in) across, set within four thick bowl-shaped sepals, the inner two red, the outer two yellow. They are borne singly, in pairs or in threes on short flower stalks amidst the leaves and are functionally only female. Because there are no male flowers, no pollen is produced and the fruit develop instead from the unfertilised female flowers in a type of asexual reproduction known as parthenogenesis.
Flowering follows the rains at the start of the rainy season, the timing and frequency of which varies between regions. Where there are two rainy season events a year flowering follows each event, resulting in two fruit crops.
The fruit are round, 6.4 to 7.6 cm (2.5 to 3 in) in diameter and crowned at the stem end by the sepals leftover from the flower. They have smooth, thick rind that is green on young fruit becoming dark purple when ripe and inside this is juicy white pulp separated into five to eight segments, with only one or two having seed.
The ripe fruit are much enjoyed in its native range and are eaten by cutting and lifting off the top half of the rind, scooping out the segments and sucking away the pulp in the mouth. The flavour is subtle, slightly acid and lies somewhere between a grape, peach and strawberry.
It produces a dark-red wood that is hard and heavy but seldom utilised because of the value of the tree for its fruit.
The rind is rich in tannins and is dried and used in traditional medicine as treatment against diarrhoea.
Grows and fruits naturally in humid tropical lowland climates, generally in frost-free areas with annual lows of 19 to 25 °C, annual highs of 27 to 34 °C, annual rainfall of 1500 to 5000 mm and a dry season of 3 months or less. Mangosteen trees may fail to thrive in areas where the average low of the coldest month is below 16 °C (61 °F).
New plants are usually raised from seed but can also be started from grafting cuttings onto seedlings. Although grafting results in earlier fruiting the fruit tend to be smaller, so seedlings are preferred. The seed should be sown soon after they are removed from the fruit, preferably in a free-draining potting mix and in a container not less than 60 cm (2 ft) deep to give the long taproot room to grow. The seedlings are then tended in a nursery under shade until they are planted out.
Seedlings are planted out before the taproot becomes root-bound, after about two years in the nursery. They need light shade for the first few years to prevent sun-scorching and it is common practice to plant under a fast-growing, short-lived perennial, such as Banana. Seedling trees start bearing fruit when about eight years old. Mature trees yield from 500 to 1500 fruit per year, depending on the size of the tree and the growing conditions.
Performs best on deep, rich free-draining clay and loam soils of an acid to neutral nature, generally with pH of 4.8 to 7.0, and on sites with full sun to light shade exposure. It has poor tolerance to alkaline or limestone soils.
Mangosteen is listed as a weed in at least one reference publication, but there does not appear to be any record of it anywhere as a serious weed. It is assessed as a low weed risk species for Hawaii, by the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment project (HPWRA).
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