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Tracing Florida Mangoes` Family Tree

A traditional crop in India and Southeast Asia for centuries, as well as in tropical regions of Central and South America, mangoes are also grown today in Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Over the past dozen years, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have played a huge role in the introduction and subsequent development of a unique Florida group of mangoes. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture`s chief research agency.

At the helm of mango genetic research at the ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Miami, Fla., is geneticist Raymond Schnell, who has thoroughly reviewed the mango cultivars held there. Since 1980, the station has been the clonal repository within the National Plant Germplasm System bearing primary responsibility for collecting and preserving mango and other subtropical crop species.

Mango cultivars are classified based on the type of embryo that develops from the seed. Monoembryonic cultivars produce a single shoot, while polyembryonic types germinate multiple shoots. The early mango introductions to Florida were primarily from the West Indies and India. Although cultivars from the West Indies flowered and set fruit well under Florida conditions, they had a poor flavor.

On the other hand, the early Indian mango cultivars were fine-flavored, but they flowered and set fruit poorly in south Florida. So hybridization efforts have been aimed at creating cultivars that embody desirable traits of both Indian cultivars (primarily monoembryonic) and Southeast Asian cultivars (primarily polyembryonic) in selections suitable for production under Florida`s subtropical conditions.

DNA extraction and analysis performed on the leaf tissue have led to findings suggesting that Florida mango cultivar types are more closely related to Indian than to Southeast Asian types. Interestingly, the Florida types were not found to be genetically more diverse than either of the originating parental groups.

The Florida mangoes are unique, and a subset of them has proven to have an unusually high level of production stability and environmental adaptability. Among these productive, adaptable mango varieties are `Keitt,` `Tommy Atkins,` `Haden,` `Parvin` and `Irwin,` all of which produce dependably over a range of environmental conditions.

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