Spanish plum, red mombin
Spondias purpurea L.
plum, red mombin; Nahuatl: ateyaxocotl; Spanish jocose (Mexico
[Oaxaca], Central America), ciruelo (Mexico [Jalisco, Yucatán])
was grown widely from Mexico to the northern
region of South
America when the Europeans arrived, as can be deduced from the
descriptions of the first chroniclers (Oviedo, Sahagún). It
spread through the Antilles and the rest of South America and was
possibly taken from Mexico to the Philippines.
The fresh fruit
has a very pleasant taste and its consumption is increasing. It is a
valuable but economical raw material for the preparation of soft
drinks, preserves and syrups and is also eaten as a dried fruit. The
current marginalization and scarcity of commercial plantations are
largely due to a lack of attention on the part of producers, technical
experts and agricultural extension workers, who are concentrating their
efforts on other fruit-trees in greater demand on the foreign market.
most widespread use of S.
is as a fresh fruit for local
consumption and for supplying city markets. In Mexico and Guatemala. it
is used in other forms which are possibly of post-Hispanic origin. In
one form, the fruit is boiled in brine for five to ten minutes and then
dried in the sun, either on tables with a wire mesh or reeds for three
days or on driers on mobile units for ten to 12 hours. By this process,
the dried fruit is reduced to one-quarter of its fresh volume. Another
way to prepare the fruit is to heat it in unsalted water and dry it in
the sun, while a third process, used in Mexico to obtain ciruelo negro,
consists of pricking the skin of the fruit, placing it in syrup (1 kg
of sugar in a bottle of water) and letting it simmer until the sugar
burns or becomes concentrated. Ciruela cristillina is a fourth method
of preparing the fruit, similar to the previous one, only the fruit is
gathered while it is ripening and is boiled for a shorter time.
uses of Spondias pulp include as an atole, mixed with maize flour and
sugar, and in the preparation of wine, chicha (maize liquor) and soft
Analyses of the fresh fruit show that the percentage of
moisture in the flesh ranges from 76 to 86 percent; it is very low in
protein and fat and contains appreciable quantities of calcium,
phosphorus, iron and ascorbic acid.
Its consumption is currently
increasing throughout Mesoamerica. The bulk of production comes from
isolated trees or hedges, while very little comes from well-ordered and
maintained plantations, such as the ones seen around the city of
Oaxaca. However, it is a very promising fruit-tree because it is
accepted on the market; it is a hardy species with a high resistance to
drought; it is easy to produce on poor soil; and its propagation is
exclusively vegetative, which ensures an early harvest.
is a small tree, growing 4 to 8 m, with a broad
irregular trunk and fragile branches; its leaves are composed of five
to 12 pairs of elliptical-acute leaflets, 2 to 4 cm in length and which
fall before the flowering period. It has red flowers in 3 to 5 cm
panicles, situated along the small branches; the fruit is an irregular
oval drupe, somewhat gibbous, smooth and shiny, 4 to 5.5 cm long and a
violet to yellow colour, with a woody kernel which contains the seeds.
The flesh is sparse, creamy, yellowish and bitter-sweet in the
cultivated plants and very acid in the wild plants. It contains malic
acid, sugar, calcium malate and starch.
The growth cycle has
only been studied in Mexico, in Sinaloa and Puebla. In Sinaloa, the
trees have foliage from June to October, leaves fall from October to
December and the trees are without foliage from January to May.
Flowering occurs in February and March and fruiting in June. In Puebla,
the trees have leaves from March to October, leaf fall occurs from
October to December and the trees remain leafless from January to
April. Flowering takes place from December to January and the fruit
ripens in April and May. Of great interest is the absence of seed
formation in this species, an aspect that was first studied in the
Philippines. In the "nut", which occupies the central part of the
fruit, only remnants of aborted seeds are found. This is due to both
poor pollen formation and the oosphere. Natural distribution is thus
completely limited, but the ease with which stems and branches sprout,
together with their fragility, allows a very limited natural
Recognition and conservation of the numerous variants which this
species displays is possibly due to the action of humans.
Figure 10. Spanish plum, red mombin (Spondias purpurea
The natural populations of S.
grow from sea level to an altitude of 1 200 m in
with alternating seasons from Sinaloa and Jalisco in Mexico to
Colombia. It is known that S.
was taken from Nicaragua to Panama and South America in the form of
cuttings with a viability of several weeks. It grows in regions of low
humidity and remains leafless during the dry season. It has been
introduced into similar tropical regions in Southeast Asia and also in
subtropical areas (Florida).
Numerous clonal varieties of S.
are known, but there has been no formal characterization of them. In
Yucatán there are 20 varieties and, although some may be S. Iutea
this is perhaps the most notable varietal concentration in Mesoamerica.
Ak-abal, with small, poor-quality fruit and smooth succulent roots,
like those of the Brazilian species S. tuberosa
used for pickles. The cultivated varieties may be divided into two
This fruits (in Central America) during the dry season from February to
May, has ellipsoidal fruit that is 2.5 to 3 cm long with smooth,
purple-red skin and yellow, smooth, sweet and slightly acid flesh. When
green, these varieties look like olives. The varieties Tronador,
Criollo, Nica and Morado grow between 0 and 800 m.
This is of superior quality, with fruit that is 3.5 to 4.5 cm long, red
or yellow, smooth or with protuberances, and has firm, sweet, slightly
acid flesh. It ripens at the end of the rainy season (September to
December). Most of these varieties grow between 800 and 1200 m and
those known include Petapa, Corona and Cabeza de loro.
been suggested that these two groups should be considered as different
species, but their distinctive characteristics are within the normal
varietal range in the cultivated species. Wild populations, such as the
iguana mombin in Costa Rica
have very attractive, red or purple
fruit. with yellow flesh similar to certain grapes, although it is
acidic and astringent. There are other wild varieties in Central
America, some with common names. Being a species in which crossings
must be very difficult, neither varietal richness nor related species,
such as the jobo (S.
), are of great use in genetic improvement.
the other hand, the study and evaluation of clonal variation may offer
new material. In this connection. regions of particular interest are:
the Pacific area of Nicaragua which has been famous for its mombin or
Spanish plum since the days of colonial settlement; Yucatán,
where numerous varieties exist; and southwestern Mexico and the
neighbouring region of Guatemala. There are no collections of
germplasm, but they should not be difficult to establish and maintain.
In addition to S. lutea
there are two cultivated species: ambarella, Jew's plum or golden or
Otatheite apple (S.
) from Polynesia, which is grown sporadically in
tropical America; and imbu mombin (S.
) from the dry region of northwestern Brazil,
whose fruits are of excellent quality. These three species are
propagated by seed.
a vegetatively propagated species, the sowing material consists of
straight cuttings, more than 6 cm thick and at least 1.5 m long, with
horizontal cuts. They are cut at the start of leaf production which
generally coincides with the beginning of the rains. The cuttings are
kept in the shade for a couple of weeks and are planted 8 x 8 m apart
at a depth of 30 cm. As a rule, the only cultivation practice is
pruning of the branches to cause numerous shoots to form along the main
Pruning can be done every year, since the flowers bud
on the current year's branches. The experience of producers in Mexico
is that pruning increases the size and weight of the fruit.
Oaxaca, there are commercial plantations on which the trees are pruned
at a height of 2 m; the cuttings are planted in double, inclined rows,
with 3 m between the pairs of rows; when pruned, they look like
European apple orchards.
There are no serious pests apart from the Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata
and Mexican fruit fly (Anastrepha
) which cause serious damage.
on the pruned trees is an easy operation, performed by shaking the
branches with poles or sticks; the fruit is gathered from the ground.
Throughout the region where mombin is produced, the green fruit is
eaten a great deal, as is the green fruit of the ambarela (S. dulcis
can be grown on marginal land of low agricultural value, on which the
tree could be used for reforestation and produce extra profit for
growers. Its production season is short, and late or early varieties
that extend this period must be sought. Marketing, whether locally or
in major towns, does not pose any major problems, as it is a widely
The main limitation is attack from fruit
flies, since control is expensive and beyond the range of small
producers. An evaluation of cultivars that have some degree of
resistance would be very advantageous, as would agronomic measures that
tend to reduce infection by flies. Another theme to be investigated is
the effect of defoliants on the acceleration of fruit formation.
far, there has not been any industrialization of the fruit. Improving
the primitive processes described earlier and research into others, as
has been done in Florida with the artificial drying of slices of the
flesh, may open up new possibilities for consumption.
of S. purpurea urgently need to be collected in one or more gene banks,
which allow a quick evaluation of their genetic characteristics
(resistance to insects, production period, response to pruning), and
sowing material must be distributed among growers. In areas with
sufficient space, it is recommended that S. purpurea be planted as a
hedge, since its fruit production represents extra profit for the
grower. Finally, transport and packaging problems must be studied to
see how they can be Improved, since they are at a very primitive stage.
D.C. de la C. 1972. Observación de poda en ciruela tropical.
Simposio sobre la investigación, el desarrollo experimental y la
docencia de CONAFRUT.
Carbajul, C.E. & Castro, M.M. 1981.
Evaluación del diámetro y la altura de la estaca en la
propagación del ciruelo mexicano (Spondias purpurea L.) en
CONAFRUT de Rosario, Sinaloa. Mexico, SSIDED, CONAFRUT.
L.A. 1977. Estudio sobre identificación y selección de
criollos sobresalientes en ciruelo mexicano (Spondias purpurea
el Estado de Veracruz . Mexico, SSIDED, CONAFRUT.
& Shaw, P.E. 1990. Spondias, the red mombin and related fruits.
S. Nagy, P.E. Shaw & W.F. Wardowsky, eds. Fruits of tropical
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M., Tisnado, N. & Carbajal, G. 1980. Fertilización en
ciruela mexicano (Spondias
purpurea L.). Rosario, Sinaloa, Mexico,
Martinez, B.A. 1988. Efecto de defoliantes en la
producción temprana de ciruela mexicana (Spondias purpurea
en San Bernardo, Acatlan, Puebla. Chapingo, Mexico. UACH. (thesis)
L.C. 1988. Problemática y programación de la asistencia
técnica en el cultivo de la ciruela mexicana (Spondias purpurea)
en el Municipio de San Jerónimo Xayacatlán, Puebla.
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Nava-Kuri, G.G. & Uscanga, M.
1979. Estudio físico y químico de doce tipos de ciruela
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last update Thursday, May 07, 1998 by aw