From the Manual of
Tropical and Subtropical Fruits
by Wilson Popenoe
This is probably the most widely cultivated species of Spondias,
although it is not so extensively distributed, in its wild state, as
the yellow mombin. It is known in many tropical countries and can be
cultivated successfully as far north as southern Florida. While not
generally considered a fruit of excellent quality, an occasional tree
is much superior to the average and is worth propagating.
The ambarella is an erect, stately, semi-deciduous tree, usually stiff
in appearance. It reaches a maximum height of 60 feet. The leaves are
large, commonly 8 to 12 inches long; the leaflets, 11 to 23 in number,
are oval to oblong in outline, 2 1/2 to 3 inches in length, remotely
serrate, and acuminate at the apex. Like those of the imbu, they are
equilateral or nearly so. The small whitish flowers are produced in
large loose panicles 8 to 12 inches in length.
The fruit is oval or slightly obovoid in form, 2 to 3 inches long, and
orange-yellow in color. The skin is as thick as that of the mango, but
tougher. The flesh is firm, very juicy, and of pale yellow color. Its
subacid flavor suggests that of the apple; sometimes, however, it is
resinous or pungent. The seed is large, oval, 1 inch in length, covered
with stiff spines or bristles to which the surrounding flesh clings
Although larger than those of other species of Spondias, the fruits of
the ambarella are not usually so pleasantly flavored as are choice
imbus or the best red mombins. They are produced in long pendent
clusters of two to ten. In Florida they ripen during the winter: in
Tahiti the season is said to be May to July, and in Hawaii November to
April. The composition of the fruit, according to an analysis by Alice
R. Thompson of Hawaii, is as follows: Total solids 14.53 per cent, ash
0.44 per cent, acids 0.47 per cent, protein 0.50 per cent, total sugars
10.54 per cent, fat 0.28 per cent, and fiber 0.85 per cent.
Ambarella is the Sinhalese name used in Ceylon, and is preferred as
being more euphonious and attractive than the name Otaheite-apple. The
latter term is current in some of the British colonies, but is
sometimes applied also to a different fruit, the ohia. Jew-plum is
another name for the ambarella, used in Jamaica. The French call the
fruit pomme Cythere. In Polynesia its name is vi or em, the former word
(spelled wi) being used in Hawaii. In Brazil the Portuguese name is
dulcis Forst. is a botanical synonym of S. cytherea
The tree is considered indigenous in Polynesia. It was brought to
Jamaica in 1782, and again in 1792 (on this second occasion by Captain
Bligh, who introduced the breadfruit into the West Indies from Tahiti).
It has not become popular in Cuba, nor is it commonly grown on the
mainland of South America, with the exception of certain parts of
Brazil. In South Florida it is successful as far north as Palm Beach.
No trees are known to have reached fruiting size in California. The
winters there are probably too cool for it.
While the tree thrives best on deep rich soils, it has been successful
in Florida (though not reaching large size) upon shallow sandy land.
Thomas Firminger says that the seeds do not germinate readily, and that
plants "are usually obtained by grafting upon seedlings of S.
mangifera." P. J. Wester has found that the species can be
shield-budded in the same manner as the avocado; he says, "Use
nonpetioled, slender, mature, but green and smooth budwood; cut large
buds with ample wood-shield, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches long; insert the
buds in the stock at a point of approximately the same age and
appearance as the cion."
Early travelers who visited Polynesia spoke of this fruit in high
terms. More recently, however, it has been likened to a "very bad
mango," and several writers have adjudged that it did not merit
cultivation. Much depends on the variety; while the average may be
poor, an occasional one is good. Only superior kinds propagated by some
vegetative means should be planted. As yet no attempt has been made to
find the best varieties and establish them as horticultural forms.