African Mango, or Irvingia gabonensis, of family Irvingiaceae, is a deciduous tree that is indigenous to tropical Western Africa, particularly in riparian areas and rainforests of countries such as Senegal and Angola (USDA Forest Service). It’s also known as oba, bobo, sweet bush mango, chocolatier, dika nut tree, and other monikers in various local vernaculars.
The tree grows well in very moist climates, and prefers more acidic, well-drained soils. It shares its genus, Irvingia, with six other species. Irvingia wombulu is the most similar of these species. However, its fruits are not edible, and the two trees do not hybridize when geographically close, and are thus genetically distinct. In addition to these two species, four others exist in Africa, and one is native to Southeast Asia.
This tree can be tall but relatively thin, reaching up to 100 feet, but with a diameter of 3-5 feet. Due to it being a hardwood tree that produces fruit and nuts, this tree has had several important uses, such as for food and lumber. The African Mango tree produces fruit that is green when ripe, with orange flesh. It has a mostly sweet taste. These fruits are typically matured in the rainy seasons of their respective countries. Wild plants begin to produce fruit as early as 10 years of age, while cultivated trees grow fruit much sooner.
The fruit provides protein, fats, and various nutrients such as iron and calcium. Additionally, the pulp can be used to produce juice and wine. The kernel, the dika nut, can also be eaten for edible fats (USDA Forest Service). The dika nut is also used as a thickener in soups and stews. A cake is also created by baking a paste of ground kernels. In addition, the nut may have some medicinal properties. It has been shown to lower lipid levels in hyperlipidemic (high levels of fat in the blood) rats, as well as providing antioxidants (Woguia et al, 2012).
It is possible that this could translate to humans, as well. In addition to being a source of food, the African Mango tree has other uses. The wood is resistant to treatment or untreatable. However, it is very durable and resistant to weathering and pests, such as termites. It can be cleaned to a smooth finish, and glues well. These properties lend it to being useful for construction and railroad ties (USDA Forest Service). In addition to these uses, the African mango tree creates jobs, by way of farming, breeding, and harvesting for both wood and food. The products it creates are traded throughout Africa. With the rise of its domestication, it is also becoming a sustainable lumber and food option, as wild populations will be exploited less often.
The breeding, cultivation, and genetics of this tree is also studied. Overall, African Mango is an incredible tree. It produces durable wood, several fat and nutrient rich sources of food, and can create jobs through study, farming, harvesting, and building. Additionally, its kernels may possess properties that reduce the amount of fat in one’s blood (from studies on rats), as the 2012 Woguia study may suggest, and provide antioxidants. This fruit should continue to be studied and domesticated, to reach its full sustainable potential.
Prota4u, Irvingia gabonensis Source
Leaf Mother, African Mango Article, Accessed: 20th May 2016
Tchoundjeu, Z., and A.R. Atangana. “Irvingia Gabonensis (Aubry-Lecomte Ex O’Rorke) Baill.” Prota4u (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa). 2007. Accessed January 10, 2016.
USDA Forest Service. “Irvingia Gabonensis.” Irvingia Gabonensis. Accessed January 10, 2016. http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/TechSheets/Chudnoff/African/htmlDocs_africa/Irvingiagabonensis.html.
Woguia, Alice Louise, Judith Laure Ngondi, Thadde Boudjeko, Christophe Rihouey, and Enyong Julius Oben. “Hypolipidemic and Antioxidative Effects of Dika Nut (Irvingia Gabonensis) Seeds and Nkui (Trimphetta Cordifolia) Stem Bark Mucilages in Triton WR-1339 Induced Hyperlipidemic Rats.” Food Sci Biotechnol Food Science and Biotechnology 21, no. 6 (2012): 1715-721. Accessed January 10, 2016. doi:10.1007/s10068-012-0228-5.