Anacardiaceae – The Mango Family

-Anacardium occidentale, Cashew Apple

The cashew apple is a bizarre structure, with a sweet fruit and sticking out of the bottom of that fruit, a toxic shell that encloses the familiar cashew nut. (Photo by Abhishek Jacob)

Cashew Apple, At A Glance:
-Height: 15-30 feet
-Florida Zone: South (Protected/Coastal)
-Origin: South America
-Season: Summer-Fall
-Propagation: Seed, Cutting, Air-layer, grafting

**NOTE: This is a potentially dangerous plant, and great caution is required in working with it.**

If you’re not familiar with it, be advised that the cashew is a strange creature, which is potentially very hazardous. The first thing to know is that the tree is in the same family as poison ivy, and it has a sap that causes blistering rashes.

The cashew fruit is a bizarre structure that consists of two different kinds of food: the cashew nut that’s familiar to most Americans, and also a sweet, juicy fruit, called the cashew apple. The cashew nut, rather than being inside the fruit as you might expect, is inside a hard shell that sticks out from the bottom of the edible fruit.

The sweet fruit is called a cashew apple. It’s red or yellow, pear-shaped, about three inches in diameter, and it’s the part that’s most accessible for the home fruit-grower. Some people are very fond of this fruit, calling it “the next best fruit, after mango.”

The cashew nut is inside a hard shell, and the shell is impregnated with toxic, poison ivy-like sap. It is extremely difficult to extract the nut from the shell without contaminating the nut with this toxic sap. It’s so dangerous even to try to extract the nut that the state of Florida document on cashews states unequivocally that the average home owner should NOT attempt to extract cashew nuts from their shell. Commercially, prior to cracking the shell, the nuts go through a special roasting process which releases toxic vapors, so the roasting is done with a special chimney to vent of the fumes away from people.

So if you grow cashew, you should just eat the fruit part, the cashew apple, and compost the nut . Even though it seems sad to throw that cool home-grown nut away, it’s better than getting a poison ivy-like rash internally, all through your digestive track! (I’m actually not exactly sure what the health consequences are of ingesting cashew sap, but it sounds like it could be pretty dire). It’s best to wear gloves when harvesting the fruit and cutting it free from the nut-shell attached to it, to avoid contacting that poisonous sap.

(Technically, the combined shell and nut are the true fruit, and the cashew apple is a pseudo-fruit, a swollen peduncle/stem for the true fruit. Here, we refer to the cashew apple as a fruit because it’s so fruit-like.)

Cashew trees are very cold-sensitive, and thrive only in the warmest parts of South Florida. Even the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead, at the southern tip of Florida, has lost cashew trees to cold winters.

Cashew trees reportedly can grow in a variety of soil types, including both the acidic sands found in much of the state, and the alkaline limerock soils prevalent in Dade County. They are reportedly sensitive to wet feet, so in high water table areas it may be necessary to plant them on a mound.

The IFAS report states that superior dwarf cultivars of cashew have been selected in Brazil and India, but these varieties have not yet been imported into Florida. Somebody who wants to jump through the regulatory hurdles of plant importation, please get busy on this!


-Mangifera indica, mango

Mangifera indica, numerous varieties. For millions of people around the world, mangoes are THE fruit.

Mangoes, At A Glance:
-Height: 15-50 feet
-Florida Zone: South, Central (Protected/Coastal)
-Origin: SE Asia
-Season: May-August
-Propagation: grafting, seed

For millions of people around the tropical areas of the world, mango is THE fruit, because of its outstanding productivity and phenomenal flavor. Many Florida gardeners begin their love affair with tropical fruit by planting their first mango tree.

Mango trees grow well throughout much of South Florida, and in coastal areas as far as about Melbourne on the east coast, and Tampa on the west coast. In interior areas of Central Florida, mangoes can grow and fruit in warmer microclimates, where they receive warmth from nearby buildings, evergreen trees, or lakes, especially after a run of mild winters. In more exposed interior areas of Central Florida, and in almost all of North Florida, winter cold prevents mangoes from from growing well enough to produce fruit outside of a greenhouse.

There are two main races of mango: Indian types, which produce rounded fruit and can be susceptible to anthracnose in humid climates like Florida, and Philippine types, which have more elongated fruits, and are more disease-resistant in Florida humidity.

Mangoes can be grown from seed, but the results are variable. Many seedling mango trees are excellent, but some are lesser quality. To achieve consistent results, plant grafted trees.

There are hundreds of excellent varieties of mango grown in South Florida, available in nurseries as grafted trees. A few of the the popular ones are Alphonse, Julie, East Indian, Cogshall, Bailey’s Marvel, Valencia Pride, Mallika, Kent, Keitt, Glenn, Carrie, and Nam Doc Mai. There are many, many outstanding varieties not on this very short list.

There aren’t any truly dwarf mangos, but some with a smaller growth habit are Pickering, Cogshall, Julie, and Carrie.

Mangoes grow well both in acidic Florida sand, and in alkaline lime rock soil of Dade county (with some micro-nutrient supplementation).



-Spondias purpurea, jocote/ciruela

Spondias purpurea has many common names, including jocote, ciruela, mombin, and hog plum

Beloved by many around the world, Spondias purpurea has many common names, including jocote, ciruela, mombin, jocote, and many more. To me, this fruit is a taste explosion in your mouth, tasting like a cross between mango and fruits of the pindo palm, Butia capitata.

Native to the American tropics, this species was distributed through all the tropical areas of the world years ago. It’s mostly consumed as a fresh fruit right off the tree, and is not a major fruit of markets.

There are both yellow skinned forms, pictured here, and red skinned types. The red ones are a little prettier, but the yellow ones I’ve tried have been slightly more flavorful than the reds.

An unusual feature of this species is that it is deciduous, dropping all its leaves in winter, and then the fruits start forming in spring on the otherwise bare, leafless branches.


Other fruit species in the Anacardiaceae:

-Bouea macrophylla, gandaria
-Mangifera caesia, belunu, binjai, wani, white mango
-Mangifera foetida, pakel
-Mangifera laurina, manga ayer
-Mangifera odorata, kuwini, kwini
-Mangifera pajang/panjang, bembangan, brown mango
-Mangifera quadrifida, rancha-rancha
-Pistacia vera
-Spondias dulcis, (AKA Spondias cytherea), ambarella, jun plum
-Spondias mombin