In a tropical garden, there are both pros and cons to using a large fruit tree or large bamboo plant. The plant habits and issues of these two plant types are certainly at opposite ends of spectrum. The mango is a large fruit tree with a rounded, evergreen canopy. Bamboo, depending on species grown, is a tall, fast-growing grass that becomes vase-shaped at maturity.
The mango is botanically known as Mangifera indica, a broadleaf evergreen tree that is in the cashew family, Anacardiaceae. Irritable toxins may be found in their unripe fruit skins, leaves and sap, which can cause dermatitis in some people, much like that caused by touching poison ivy.
Bamboo is not a tree at all, but a grouping of grass species, part of the grass family, Gramineae. Tropical native bamboo species may be either clumping in their growth habit or spreading and invasive. Tall, treelike timber bamboos to consider include those of the genuses Bambusa and Gigantochloa.
Mango is native to the humid tropical forests of southern Asia, from northern India eastward and southward to Malaysia.
There are nearly 140 species of Bambusa native to tropical Africa, Asia and Australia. The 37 known species of Gigantochloa are native to Asia and islands of the western Pacific and physically resemble the timber bamboos of the Bambusa group.
Mango trees have the capacity to grow as tall as 100 feet with a canopy spread of 60 to 80 feet. If provided ample growing space, the muscular branches hold a dense vegetative thicket of long drooping leaves. In windy locations, especially where tropical storms and hurricanes frequent, mango trees can appear unkempt and macabre as branches and trunks are irregularly snapped off. New growth from tree branch wounds quickly appears, but the haphazard regrowth can create a less than perfectly shaped canopy.
Both Bambusa and Gigantochloa types of timber bamboos are clumping plants with numerous tall culms or woody stems lined with small branchlets carrying papery elongated foliage. Growing from rhizomes, fleshy underground stems, the plant base forms an oval to circular thicket of culms that reach skyward, eventually bending gracefully to form a fountainlike mass. The strength and pliability of the bamboo culms usually precludes damage from tropical storm winds. Or, if culms are broken and pruned away, regrowth from new culms quickly rejuvenates a pleasantly shaped clumping plant.
Both mango and timber bamboo should be grown in a sandy soil that is enriched with organic matter. Soils must be well-draining so that soggy mud patches do not collect at the base of the plants or their roots. The consistency of moisture and humus in the soil year-round ensures a healthy plant of good aesthetics. Although the mango and many species of the timber bamboo are tolerant of a light frost occasionally in winter, they will perform their best when temperatures in winter never drop below 40 degrees F. These plants also can tolerate some drought, although prolonged or severe drought will be met with stunted or delayed leaf and stem growth or the loss of foliage to conserve water.
Many varieties of mango have been developed, providing many options for gardeners to choose a tree for mature size, habit and fruit qualities. Likewise, extensive selection of various timber bamboo clones in Asia and by breeders in the Americas provides a wide range of species and forms to be grown in a variety of landscape situations.
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