If every plant species needs a superhero, the ever-benevolent warrior for Hawaii-grown mangoes is surely Mark Suiso.
When it comes to Hawaii’s favorite chilled fruit for a warm summer day, the owner of Makaha Mangoes is on a threefold mission: Plant new mango trees; return older, neglected trees to productivity; and, in true superhero form, extend the summer ripening season for mangoes to include spring and fall by growing in the Islands’ multiple microclimates.
There are hundreds of varieties of Hawaii-grown mango. Suiso can tell a Dot mango from a Haden, suss out a Pirie mango in a box of similar-looking Rapozas and identify every hybrid in between. He knows growing histories, soil preferences and, if a mango was grown on Oahu, where it was raised. Whether on the clock as a respected consultant or off it as a pure fanatic, Suiso discusses mangoes with runaway-train enthusiasm.
He even loves giving mango saplings as wedding gifts, proudly accepting photos of his mango “offspring” from grateful friends as the trees mature. He considers his trees family members, part of his ohana.
Smack in the middle of the season is the annual “Mangoes at the Moana” festival in Waikiki, a sort of mangifera world series where Suiso’s best-in-show mango-tasting contest will give attendees a chance to taste the plethora of mangoes grown here.
“I call it mango diplomacy,'” says Suiso.
Got a backyard? Better have a fruit tree in it if Suiso drops by or risk his wrath.
“Houses are getting bigger and yards are getting smaller. It’s blasphemy,” he says. “Everyone should have a fruit tree in the yard. Everyone. That’s what is special about Hawaii. People go to the Pacific Northwest for cherries. They should come here for mango season.”
5 things I love about mango season
1. Backyard bliss:
“I love being able to eat a ripe mango straight from the backyard tree. It’s the very best way; the lingering flavor and sweetness are hard to beat. Seeing mangoes grow reinforces and connects me to the power of nature. They have to endure challenges, just like us.”
“Having a fruit tree and sharing fruit with neighbors and friends brings people together and builds a nice community. [Similar things that] are special about Hawaii have gotten away from us and we have to get [them] back.”
“I’m referred to as ‘Mango Man’ and I wear the title proudly. The trees can’t speak up and so, in a way, I speak for them. I grew up caring for mango trees. The renewed interest in reconnecting with this part of Hawaii history is very rewarding.”
“The ‘Mangoes at the Moana’ festival gets better every year. It’s a great opportunity to find obscure mangoes, sample great food and to buy fruit trees."
“For me, growing mangoes is a lifestyle. But to bring back the tradition of a mango tree in every yard will take energy, effort and cooperation. It’s a challenge.”
This story was originally published in the July/August 2013 print issue of HAWAII Magazine.