From the book
Fruits of Warm Climates
by Julia F. Morton
Mammea americana L.
mamey stands almost midway between "major" and "minor" tropical fruits
and is unique in remaining virtually static in the past 40 years,
receiving little attention at home or abroad. Botanically, it is
identified as Mammea americana
L., of the family Guttiferae, and therefore related to the mangosteen,
q.v. Among alternative names in English are mammee, mammee apple, St.
Domingo apricot and South American apricot. To Spanish-speaking people,
it is known as mamey de Santo Domingo, mamey amarillo, mamey de
Cartagena, mata serrano, zapote mamey, or zapote de Santo Domingo. In
Portuguese it is called abricote, abrico do Pará, abrico
selvagem, or pecego de Sao Domingos. In French, it is abricot d'
Amerique, abricot des Antilles, abricot pays, abricot de Saint-Dominque
or abricotier sauvage.
This species is often confused with the sapote, or mamey colorado, Pouteria sapota,
q.v., which is commonly called mamey in Cuba; and reports of its
occurring wild in Africa are due to confusion with the African mamey, M. africana Sabine (syn. Ochrocarpus africana Oliv.).
Plate XLII: MAMEY, Mammea americana
mamey tree, handsome and greatly resembling the southern magnolia,
reaches 60 to 70 ft (18-21 m) in height, has a short trunk which may
attain 3 or 4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) in diameter, and ascending branches
forming an erect, oval head, densely foliaged with evergreen, opposite,
glossy, leathery, dark-green, broadly elliptic leaves, up to 8 in (20
cm) long and 4 in (10 cm) wide. The fragrant flowers, with 4 to 6 white
petals and with orange stamens or pistils or both, are 1 to 1 1/2 in
(2.5-4 cm) wide when fully open and borne singly or in groups of 2 or 3
on short stalks. They appear during and after the fruiting season:
male, female and hermaphrodite together or on separate trees.
fruit, nearly round or somewhat irregular, with a short, thick stem and
a more or less distinct tip or merely a bristle-like floral remnant at
the apex, ranges from 4 to 8 in (10-20 cm) in diameter, is heavy and
hard until fully ripe when it softens slightly. The skin is light-brown
or grayish-brown with small, scattered, warty or scurfy areas,
leathery, about 1/8 in (3 mm) thick and bitter. Beneath it, a thin,
dry, whitish membrane, or "rag", astringent and often bitter, adheres
to the flesh. The latter is light- or golden-yellow to orange,
non-fibrous, varies from firm and crisp. and sometimes dry to tender,
melting and juicy. It is more or less free from the seed though bits of
the seed-covering, which may be bitter, usually adhere to the
immediately surrounding wall of flesh. The ripe flesh is appetizingly
fragrant and, in the best varieties, pleasantly subacid, resembling the
apricot or red raspberry in flavor. Fruits of poor quality may be too
sour or mawkishly sweet. Small fruits are usually single-seeded; larger
fruits may have 2, 3 or 4 seeds. The seed is russet-brown, rough, ovoid
or ellipsoid and about 2 1/2 in (6.25 cm) long. The juice of the seed
leaves an indelible stain.
Origin and Distribution
mamey is native to the West Indies and northern South America. It was
recorded as growing near Darién, Panama, in 1514, and in 1529
was included by Oviedo in his review of the fruits of the New World. It
has been nurtured as a specimen in English greenhouses since 1735. It
grows well in Bermuda and is quite commonly cultivated in the Bahama
Islands and the Greater and Lesser Antilles. In St. Croix it is
spontaneous along the roadsides where seeds have been tossed. In
southern Mexico and Central America, it is sparingly grown except in
the lowlands of Costa Rica, El Salvador and in Guatemala where it may
be seen planted as a windbreak and ornamental shade tree along city
streets, and is frequently grown for its fruit on the plains and
foothills of the Pacific coast. Cultivation is scattered in Colombia,
Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana, Ecuador and northern
Introduced into the tropics of the Old World, it is of
very limited occurrence in West Africa (particularly Sierra Leone),
Zanzibar, southeastern Asia, Java, the Philippines, and Hawaii. All
seedlings planted in Israel have died in the first or second year. From
time to time, seedlings have been planted in California, but most have
succumbed the first winter. Dr. Robert Hodson, of the University of
California, stated in 1940: "I know of only one large and old tree of
Mammea americana growing out of doors in southern California, and it
has never fruited."
The mamey may have been brought to Florida
first from the Bahamas, but the United States Department of Agriculture
received seeds from Ecuador in 1919 (S.P.I. #47425). One of the largest
fruiting specimens in Florida is at the Fairchild Tropical Garden,
Miami, standing on a site formerly part of an early nursery, and
thought to be over 60 years of age. Another, as old or older, on a
private estate in Palm Beach, was fruiting heavily before 1940. The
most northerly reached 30 feet (9 m) and fruited in Dr. Talmadge
Wilson's garden at Stuart but was killed by lightning about 1956.
was a 35-foot (10.5 m) fruiting tree in the Edison Botanical Garden at
Fort Myers, its trunk at least 20 in (50 cm) thick, but it was removed
after severe hurricane damage in 1960 and replaced by a young one. A
number of fruiting trees on private property in the Miami area have
been destroyed to make room for construction. The Fairchild Tropical
Garden has distributed numerous seedlings from their large tree but
most apparently fail to survive the winter in the hands of new owners
Many seeds were planted as nursery stock by Robert Newcomb of Homestead
who offered grafted plants for sale from 1953 to 1956 and then,
discouraged by winter-killing, gave his remaining plants to a garden
club on Key Largo. Hurricane "Donna" of 1960 doubtless eliminated most
mamey is limited to tropical or near-tropical climates. In Central
America, it thrives from near sea-level to 3,300 ft (1,000 m). Three
trees at the Agricultural Research and Education Center, Homestead, in
southern Florida, were killed by a temperature drop to 28º F
(-2.22º C) in January 1940.
mamey tree favors deep, rich, well-drained soil, but is apparently
quite adaptable to even shallow, sandy terrain, and it grows naturally
in limestone areas of Jamaica, also does well in the oolitic limestone
of the Bahamas and southeastern Florida.
are the usual means of dissemination and they germinate in 2 months or
less and sprout readily in leaf-mulch under the tree. Seedlings bear in
6 to 8 years in Mexico, 8 to 10 years in the Bahamas. Vegetative
propagation is preferable to avoid disappointment in raising male trees
and to achieve earlier fruiting. In English greenhouse culture,
half-ripe cuttings with lower leaves attached are employed. Both Robert
Newcomb and Albert Caves of Palm Lodge Tropical Grove, Homestead,
successfully grafted the mamey onto self-seedlings.
mamey generally receives little or no cultural attention, apart from
protection from cold during the first few winters in other than
strictly tropical climates. It seems remarkably resistant to pests and
Barbados, the fruits begin to ripen in April and continue for several
weeks. The season extends from May through July in the Bahamas, some
fruits being offered in the Nassau native market and on roadside
stands. In southern Florida, mameys ripen from late June through July
and August. In Puerto Rico, some trees produce two crops a year.
Central Colombia has two crops occurring in June and December.
may be indicated by a slight yellowing of the skin or, if this is not
apparent, one can scratch the surface very lightly with a fingernail.
If green beneath, the fruit should not be picked, but, if yellow, it is
fully mature. If fruits are allowed to fall when ripe, they will bruise
and spoil. They should be clipped, leaving a small portion of stem
productivity of individual trees varies considerably. In Puerto Rico,
high-yielding trees may bear 150 to 200 fruits per crop, totalling 300
to 400 fruits per year.
facilitate peeling, the skin is scored from the stem to the apex and
removed in strips. The rag must be thoroughly scraped from the flesh
which is then cut off in slices, leaving any part which may adhere to
the seed, and trimming off any particles of seed-covering from the
roughened inner surface of the flesh.
The flesh of tender
varieties is delicious raw, either plain, in fruit salads, or served
with cream and sugar or wine. In Jamaica, it may be steeped in wine and
sugar for a while prior to eating. In the Bahamas, some prefer to let
the flesh stand in lightly salted water "to remove the bitterness"
before cooking with much sugar to a jam-like consistency. I have often
stewed the flesh, without pretreatment, adding a little sugar and
possibly a dash of lime or lemon juice. Once, some of the pulp, stewed
without citrus juice, was left in a covered plastic container in a
refrigerator for one month. At the end of this time, there was no loss
of flavor, no fermentation or other evidence of spoilage; and the fruit
was eaten with no ill effect. In this connection, it is interesting to
note that an antibiotic principle in the mamey was reported by the
Agricultural Experiment Station, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, in 1951.
mamey flesh may also be cooked in pies or tarts, and may be seasoned
with cinnamon or ginger. Canned, sliced mamey has in the past been
exported from Cuba. The mamey is widely made into preserves such as
spiced marmalade and pastes (resembling guava paste) and used as a
filler for products made of other fruits. Slightly under-ripe fruits,
rich in pectin, are made into jelly. Wine is made from the fruit and
fermented "toddy" from the sap of the tree in Brazil.In the Dominican
Republic, the uncooked flesh, blended with sugar, is made into frozen
sherbet. The juice or sirup of stewed flesh, is seasoned with sugar and
lemon juice to make "ade". When cooking the flesh for any purpose, one
is advised to skim off any foam that forms on the surface of the water,
as this is usually bitter.
Food Value Per 100 g of Fresh Pulp*
|Vitamin A (ß-Carotene)
*Analyses made in Cuba and Central America.
folk in the Dominican Republic have some doubt of the wholesomeness of
mamey flesh. In the Description and History of Vegetable Substances
Used in the Arts and Domestic Economy, published in London in 1829, it
is stated: "To people with weak stomachs, it is said to be more
delicious than healthful." The Bahamian practice of soaking the pulp in
salted water may be a safety precaution inasmuch as bitterness is not
only disliked but distrusted. The old Jamaican custom of steeping in
wine might also be considered a safeguard. Kennard and Winters observe
that, in Puerto Rico, "Although the fruit is widely eaten, it is
recommended that only moderate amounts be consumed." A former Spanish
professor at the University of Miami related that, when he was about 19
in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, he ate half of a large mamey from a tree in
his home yard, after peeling and scraping off the rag but not removing
any adherent seed-covering. Then he ate the pulp of one star apple.
hour later, he had stomach cramps and, later, his abdomen was reddened
and oddly reticulated. He attributed this reaction to the mamey and was
convinced there was "something poisonous about it."
al. (1952) commented that, while the delicious mamey "has formed part
of the diet of the inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands for many
generations, it is well known that this fruit produces discomfort,
especially in the digestive system, in some persons." They reported
also that "a concentrated extract of the fresh fruit" proved fatally
toxic to guinea pigs, and was also found poisonous to dogs and cats.
The extract was made from the edible portion only. The authors likened
the mamey to the akee (Blighia sapida), q.v., as a human hazard, and Djerassi, et al., aver that "reports of poisoning in humans are known."
That various parts of the mamey tree contain toxic properties has been
long recognized and was first reported by Grosourdy in El Médico
Botanico Criollo in 1864. A Colombian decoction of mamey resin was
displayed at the Paris Exposition in 1867. It is significant that in
the United States Department of Agriculture's record of mamey seed
introduction from Ecuador in 1919, only the insecticidal and medicinal
uses of the species were noted. There was no comment on edible uses of
In Puerto Rico, there, is a time-honored practice of
wrapping a mamey leaf like a collar around young tomato plants when
setting them in the ground to protect them from mole crickets and
cutworms. The leaf must be placed at just the right height, half above
ground and half below.
In Mexico and Jamaica, the thick, yellow
gum from the bark is melted with fat and applied to the feet to combat
chiggers and used to rid animals of fleas and ticks. A greenish-yellow,
gummy resin from the skin of immature fruits, and an infusion of
half-ripe fruits are similarly employed. The bark is strongly
astringent and a decoction is effective against chiggers. In El
Salvador, a paste made of the ground seeds is used against poultry
lice, mites and head lice. In the Dominican Republic, mamey seeds,
avocado seeds, and Zamia seeds fried in oil, are mashed and applied to
the head as a "therapeutic shampoo", probably to eliminate lice.
the Federal Experiment Station, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, the insecticidal
activity of various parts of the mamey tree and the fruit have been
under active investigation. The seed kernel, most potent, was found, in
feeding experiments and when tested as a contact poison applied as a
dust or spray, to be effective in varying degree against armyworms,
melonworms, cockroaches, ants, drywood termites, mosquitoes and their
larvae, flies, larvae of diamond-back moth, and aphids. In certain
tests, mamey seeds appeared to be 1/5 as toxic as pyrethrum and less
toxic to plant pests than nicotine sulfate and DDT.
powdered seeds and sliced unripe fruit infusions, 1 lb (0.45 kg) in a
gallon (3.78 liters) of water, were tested on dogs, both products were
as effective as DDT and faster in killing fleas and ticks but not as
long-lasting in regard to reinfestation.
None of the dogs was
poisoned despite the presence of healing sores and minor abrasions of
the skin, but, after similar trials on mice, 4 out of 70 died. The
active ingredients of the infusion are the resin from the unripe skin
and the developing seeds. In Ecuador, animals with mange or sheep ticks
are washed with a decoction made by boiling the seed but, in one
instance, a dog with mange and ulcers died 48 hours after two
The dried and powdered immature fruit, the bark,
wood, roots and flowers have shown poor insecticidal activity; the seed
hulls appeared inert. The powdered leaves were found 59% effective
against fall armyworms and 75% against the melonworm. Various extracts
from the fruit, bark, leaves or roots are toxic to webbing clothes
moths, black carpet beetle larvae and also to milkweed bugs.
fish-poisoning experiments, Pagan and Morris reported mamey seed
extracts to be 1/30 as toxic as rotenone; 1/60 to 1/80 as potent as
powdered dried derris root. Feeding trails have shown the seeds to be
very toxic to chicks and they are considered a hazard to hogs in the
The crude resinous extract from powdered mamey
seeds, given orally, has produced symptoms of poisoning in dogs and
cats and a dose of 200 mg per km weight has caused death in guinea pigs
within 8 hours. The crystalline insecticidal principle from the dried
and ground seeds, potent even after several months of storage, has been
named mammein and assigned the formula C22H28O5. The stability of this
principle was demonstrated by M.P. Morris who found no significant
difference in toxicity of powdered fresh mamey fruit and mamey powder
stored for 6 years in steel drums. Neither was the potency of mamey
extract destroyed by subjection to 392º F (200º C).
chemical experiments with the extracted compound are reported by S.P.
Marfey who considered the mamey a potential substitute for pyrethrum
The main constituent of a wax isolated from the seed oil is the symmetrical C48 homolog, tetracosanyl tetracosanoate.
In Central America, the tree is protected because the fruit is valued.
Elsewhere, if the mamey is common, it may be felled for its timber. The
heartwood is reddish- or purple-brown; the sapwood much lighter in
color. The wood is heavy, hard, but not difficult to work, fine-grained
and strong; has an attractive grain and polishes well. It is useful in
cabinetwork, valued for pillars, rafters, decorative features of fine
houses, interior sheathing, turnery and for fenceposts since it is
fairly decay-resistant. It is, however, highly susceptible to termites.
Some of the wood is consumed as fuel.
Bark: The tannin from the bark is sometimes used for home treatment of leather in the Virgin Islands.
In Venezuela, the powdered seeds are employed in the treatment of
parasitic skin diseases. In Brazil, the ground seeds, minus the embryo,
which is considered convulsant, are stirred into hot water and the
infusion employed as an anthelmintic for adults only.
French West Indies, an aromatic liqueur called Eau de Creole, or Creme
de Creole, is distilled from the flowers and said to act as a tonic or
An infusion of the fresh or dry leaves (one handful
in a pint [0.47 liter] of water) is given by the cupful over a period
of several days in cases of intermittent fever and it is claimed to
have been effective where quinine has failed.
Last updated: 1/21/115 by ch