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Morton, J. 1987. Mamey. p. 304–307. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.


Mammea americana L.

The 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

The 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.

The 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

The 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 Brazil.

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. There 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 of these.


The 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.


The 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.


Seeds 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.


The 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 diseases.


In 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.


Ripeness 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 attached.


The 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.

Food Uses

To 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.

Sliced 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*

Calories 44.5-45.3
Moisture 85.5-87.6 g
Protein 0.470-0.088 g
Fat 0.15-0.99 g
Total Carbohydrates 11.52-12.67 g
Fiber 0.80-1.07 g
Ash 0.17-0.29 g
Calcium 4.0-19.5 mg
Phosphorus 7.8-14.5 mg
Iron 0.15-2.51 mg
Vitamin A (ß-Carotene) 0.043-0.37 mg
Thiamine 0.017-0.030 mg
Riboflavin 0.025-0.068 mg
Niacin 0.160-0.738 mg
Ascorbic Acid 10.2-22.0 mg
Amino Acids:
Tryptophan 5 mg
Methionine 5-6 mg
Lysine 14-35 mg

*Analyses made in Cuba and Central America.


Rural 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. An 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."

Morris et 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."

Other Uses

Insecticidal value: 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 the fruit.

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.

At 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. When 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 applications.

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.

In 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 Virgin Islands.

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).

Extensive chemical experiments with the extracted compound are reported by S.P. Marfey who considered the mamey a potential substitute for pyrethrum and rotenone.

The main constituent of a wax isolated from the seed oil is the symmetrical C48 homolog, tetracosanyl tetracosanoate.

Wood: 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.

Medicinal Uses: 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.

In the 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 digestive.

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.