Picture a man and a woman, knives in hand, working their way through a jungle. The tree cover is so dense there's barely any sunlight, and the air is rich with the scents of rain and greenery. After what seems like hours, they reach their prize. Is it a hidden temple filled with gold statues? A secret stash of rare jewels? No. It's a mango tree.
If you think horticulturists sit in a little greenhouse all day watching the flowers grow, you haven't met Richard Campbell, director of horticulture and senior curator of tropical fruit, and Noris Ledesma, curator of tropical fruit, at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Part of their job description is to go wherever mangoes grow to further the garden's collection of rare species. And because mangoes grow almost everywhere on the planet, their jobs take Campbell and Ledesma everywhere from Borneo to India to the backyards of Coconut Grove.
Mangoes come in nearly every color, from pale green to deep purple.
Fairchild's mango collection can best be considered a living museum. Located
at Fairchild Farm in Homestead, hundreds of mango trees are grown from
cuttings taken by Campbell and Ledesma on their worldwide plant-finding
trips. Most trees are marked in code, but during a recent walk through the
garden, Campbell identifies some of their origins. Those large
purplish mangoes are from Israel. That lush tree with the weirdly shaped
yellow fruit is from India. And that little tree is native to
Egyptian mangoes are juiced directly into the glass.
Each tree comes with a story, and Campbell is a master
storyteller. As he stops to pick a ripe fruit off an Eqyptian tree, he recalls walking the streets of Cairo with sweet juice in his hand.
"These mangoes are designed for their juice," Campbell says as he cuts into the
soft flesh, squeezing the nectar directly into a glass.
clearly enamored with the mango. His hands are stained orange from
working with the fruit for about two decades. He's quick to tell you there's a mango for every taste, every culture. And, like
everything else, each country thinks it grows the best variety, whether sweet and juicy or crisp and tart.
If you want to get out of your mango comfort zone,
there's no better time than this weekend, when Fairchild Tropical
Botanic Garden hosts the 20th annual International Mango Festival.
Saturday, July 14, and Sunday, July 15, from 9:30 a.m. 4:30 p.m., you can
immerse yourself in everything mango via lectures, cooking demonstrations,
An on-site fruit market and tree sale will allow
you to take mangoes home. If you're looking for something a
little more exotic, you can bid on some rare fruit at the world's only
Pony up an extra buck and enter the mango
tasting and flavor evaluation room, where you can sample some
lesser-known varieties. Fruit smoothies will be available for
purchase, and samples of mango pies and mango coconut water will be
Admission to the festival is free for Fairchild
members and children 5 and younger. For nonmembers, admission is $25
for adults, $18 for seniors 65 and older, and $12 for children 6 to 12. Arrive by bike or on foot and save $5 off adult admission and $2 off for kids.
Military personnel with ID get in free.
In addition to the
festival, a special mango brunch is being offered, with some
of Miami's best chefs cooking up tropical fruit-related dishes, on Sunday at 11
Susser, Mark Militello, Frank and Andrea Randazzo, and Douglas
Rodriguez are some of the chefs participating in this fundraiser for
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Fairchild's tropical fruit program. The brunch costs $100 for Fairchild
members and $125 for nonmembers. Call Ashley Amarante at 305-667-1651, ext. 3344, for tickets.