In a nursery near Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh in India, stands a massive fruiting mango tree. If you look carefully at each branch, the texture of the leaves are all different, with varying shades of green and different levels of shine. The mangos that grow on these branches vary just as much as the leaves do. There are round ones, oval ones, green ones, yellow ones, shades of pink and purple. And this is because the tree is capable of growing over 300 varieties. Atlas Obscura has the whole fascinating fruit-filled story.
The man who tends to this tree is Kalimullah Khan, 80, otherwise known as the “Mango Man.” The mangos are all labeled. On a call with Atlas Obscura, he showed off the different varieties, including some from a nearby village and some from far across India. India is the largest producer of mangoes in the world, with 40% of the world’s global production; more than 1,000 varieties are cultivated.
When he was 15, Khan was fascinated by crossbred roses he saw in a friend’s garden. He saw different colored roses growing on the same plant and wondered if a single mango tree could grow different varieties of fruit. Over the years, he honed his technique, cutting branches from one tree and splicing them into notches onto another. In 1987, he began work on a 100-year-old mango tree, and thus, his masterpiece was born. It now bears more than 300 fruits. He calls it Al Muquaraar, or “The Resolute.” It’s clear he’s passionate about the tree.
“Just like two children of the same parents are different in their traits and qualities, mangoes that germinate from the same seed can be totally different,” says Khan, who waxes eloquent about each variety of mango, as if it were a favorite child. In addition to grafting, he breeds new mango varieties, experimenting with taste and texture and, often, creative names. He has named new mangoes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Namo Aam) and Bollywood actor Aishwarya Rai. “I created one after the famous cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, and he made a phone call to convey his happiness and thanks,” says Khan. Most recently he named two new mangoes “doctor aam” and “police aam” in thanks of first responders’ work during the pandemic.
This is a well-researched and in-depth piece, so when you have a moment today give it a read. Now all I can think about is mangoes. Maybe someday I’ll be able to see the tree.