The fruit has a stunning red velvety feel or fuzz that is brilliant to look at; however, it does come with a pungent aroma that many might find off-putting. I spotted dozens of brilliant orange-red fruit covering the ground as well as the tree’s canopy, on a hike through a stand of hardwoods nestled in between 30’+ tall bamboo forests.
A minor member of the family Ebenaceae, more admired for its ornamental than its edible value, the mabolo has appeared in literature for many years under the illegitimate binomial Diospyros discolor Willd. In 1968, Dr. Richard Howard, Director of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University, proposed the adoption of D. blancoi A. DC., and this is now regarded as the correct botanical designation for this species. The fruit is sometimes called velvet apple, or, in India, peach bloom. In Malaya, it is buah mantega (butter fruit)–a term now often applied to the avocado–, or buah sakhlat, or sagalat (scarlet fruit). Mabolo (or mabulo) is the most common of the several Philippine dialectal names. Another, kamagon, is rendered camagon in Spanish.
The mabolo varies in form from a small straggly tree with drooping branches, to an erect, straight tree to 60 or even 100 ft (18-33 m), with stout, black, furrowed trunk to 50 in (80 cm) thick. It is rather slow-growing. The evergreen, alternate leaves, oblong, pointed at the apex, rounded or pointed at the base, are 6 to 9 in (15-22.8 cm) long, 2 to 3 1/2 in (5-9 cm) wide; leathery, dark-green, smooth and glossy on the upper surface, silvery-hairy underneath. New leaves are showy, pale-green or pink and silky-hairy. The tubular, 4-lobed, waxy, faintly fragrant blooms are short-stalked, creamy-white, downy. Male flowers 1/4 in (6 mm) wide, in small clusters, and female flowers, 1/2 in (12.5 mm) wide, and solitary, are borne on separate trees. Attractive and curious, the oval or oblate fruit, 2 to 4 in (5-10 cm) wide, has thin, pink, brownish, yellow, orange or purple-red skin, densely coated with short, golden-brown or coppery hairs, and is capped at the base with a dull-green, stiff calyx. The fruits are often borne in pairs, very close together on opposite sides of a branch. A strong, unpleasant, cheese-like odor is given off by the whole fruit but emanates from the skin, for it is absent in the peeled flesh, which is whitish, firm, mealy, somewhat like that of an overripe apple; moist but not very juicy; of mild, more or less sweet flavor, suggesting a banana-flavored apple. There may be 4 to 8 brown, smooth, wedge-shaped seeds, about 1 1/2 in (4 cm) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) wide, standing in a circle around the central core, though the fruits are often completely seedless. Each seed is covered with a whitish membrane that is transparent when fresh, opaque when dried.
The mabolo is indigenous to the low and medium altitude forests of the Philippine Islands from the island of Luzon to the southernmost of the Sulu Islands, and is commonly cultivated for its fruit and even more as a shade tree for roadsides. The tree was introduced into Java and Malaya, and, in 1881, into Calcutta and the Botanical Garden in Singapore, though it existed in Singapore before that date. In recent times, it has been decreasing in numbers in Malaya. It is only occasionally planted in India and then mainly as an ornamental because of the attractiveness of the foliage and the fruits.
Seeds were sent to the United States Department of Agriculture by W.S. Lyon, of the Philippine Bureau of Agriculture, in 1906, with a note of admiration for the tree and the exterior of the fruit but not the interior; still, more seeds were sent in 1909 and the seedlings thrived at the Plant Introduction Station in Miami. There are occasional specimens grown elsewhere in southern Florida and some scattered around the Caribbean area, in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Trinidad and the Lancetilla Experimental Garden in Honduras where plants were received from the Philippines in 1926 and seeds from Cuba in 1927. There are a few in Bermuda and in Hawaii where the mabolo first fruited in 1928. Nowhere has the mabolo gained the favor it enjoys in its homeland.
Mabolo trees vary in the degree of hairiness on the twigs and leaves. Burkill (in Malaya) and Mendiola (in the Philippines) refer to mabolos with red and copper-colored skin as distinct races. A race with purplish-red skin and unusually sweet flavor was long ago introduced into Malaya. In 1921, budded trees of a superior seedless cultivar called ‘Manila’ were shipped to the United States Department of Agriculture by P.J. Wester, who was then Horticulturist in charge of the Manila Experiment Station. The parent tree in the Philippines had a history of bearing crops of oblate, sweet, juicy fruits, 80% of them seedless, 20% having 1 to 3 seeds. Another seedless Philippine cultivar was named ‘Valesca’.
Mendiola (1926) wrote that seedless mabolos “are easily distinguished from the seedy ones as they are flatter. It is believed by some horticulturists and growers that these seedless fruits come from branches that are bud sports . . . it is impossible to confirm or deny this claim until it is known how much parthenocarpy has to do with . . . these seedless forms . . . the genus Diospyros is, in a number of cases, parthenocarpic.”
The tree is generally grown from seeds. Shield-budding has been successfully practiced in the Philippines and is the preferred means of perpetuating superior types.
Male trees must be planted near the female trees for effective pollination and fruit production. The tree does best in loam but flourishes very well in almost any soil with little care. It is rarely fertilized and seems to need no protective spraying.
In India, the mabolo blooms in March and April and the fruits ripen in July and August. The main season in Florida is June to September but occasional fruits may be found on the tree at almost any time of the year.
Investigators in Hawaii studied carbon dioxide and ethylene production of mature green and 5% red-colored mabolos. Mature-green fruits reached the climacteric peak stage in 9 days; the slightly ripe fruits, in 5 days.
The surface fuzz adheres tightly even when the fruit is ripe. Also, the skin, though thin and pliable, is tough and papery when chewed. Therefore, the fruits should be peeled before eating, and then kept in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. Then the odor, which is mainly in the skin, will have largely dissipated.
Some people slice or quarter the flesh, season with lime or lemon juice or Grenadine sirup and serve fresh as dessert. The flesh is also diced and combined with that of other fruits in salads. If stewed in sirup, the flesh becomes fibrous and tough. Cut into strips and fried in butter, it is crisp and fairly agreeable as a vegetable of the dasheen or taro type appropriate for serving with ham, sausage or other spicy meat.
Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*
|Ordinary type||Seedless type|
|Moisture||77.80 g||71.95-86.04 g|
|Protein||0.75 g||0.82-2.79 g|
|Carbohydrates||(other) 5.49-6.12 g|
|Sugar||11.47 g||(reducing) 6.25-18.52 g|
|Ash||0.83 g||0.43-1.08 g|
|Sulphuric Acid||0.11 g|
|Malic Acid||0.16 g|
|Phytin||–||3.26% (on dry basis)|
*Analyses made in the Philippines and India.
The fruit is considered a fairly good source of iron and calcium and a good source of vitamin B.
The hairs may be somewhat irritating to sensitive skin.
Mabolo seedlings: Useful as rootstock on which to graft the Japanese persimmon.
Wood: The sapwood is pinkish or reddish; may have gray markings. The heartwood is streaked and mottled with gray and is sometimes all-black. In the Philippines, it is carved into highly prized hair combs.