Mango Grower Loves the Fruits of His Labor

The following article, Mango Grower Loves the Fruits of His Labor – was published November 3, 1975 News Press –and written by Frazier Moore, Cape Coral Bureau.

Pine Island’s Jack Flowerree says mangoes are the second best thing in the world. If you ask what’s first he’ll say if you don’t know what’s first, then for you, mangoes must be first. Flowerree speaks of mangoes like a mother does of her children, like Dorothy did of Kansas, like a used car sales man will of that shiny little coupe he’ll let you have for $399, and what a steal. Flowerree is Pine Island’s priest, peddler and patriarch of mangoes, the consummate mango grower. “There’s only one thing to do with a mango,” he advised. “You eat it. You peel the son-of-a-gun and eat it. There’s no way you can improve it.

“A Mango is so much better than any other fruit, there’s no way to compare,” he says. “Every variety tastes different. Every day of their lives they taste different. Pretty near every mango tastes different from every other.“So you don’t compare ‘em with anything else. And once you get hooked on mangoes, you don’t eat anything else, long as you can get ‘em.”

Taking a breather from his morning labors, Flowerree is dressed in plaid work shirt, blue work pants, and green cap. His face is leathered, and his eyes are blue. His voice and manner are gentle and earnest and tinged with mischief like a country music singer introducing a song. His constant companion is his stubby pipe, which he fingers and wields and points like a sixth finger on his left hand, or pounds on his heel to remove smoked debris, or stuffs with tobacco from a battered red Prince Albert tin. He is the coach of a team of 1,000. The playing field is 23 acres. And the game started about six years ago when Flowerree faced his newly-purchased property, thick with growth. It took him a year to clear the land. “If you had any idea how much work it’s been to get these 23 acres of planted with mangoes, you’d wonder how I got anything else done. “I’ve been eating out of the sock to get this thing going, and the sock was getting empty, but it’s getting to the point now that I can make a living. If the weather’s right, after this year I’ll have 1,500 bushels. If the weather ain’t right, I won’t have any.”

Born in a century-old log cabin in Missouri 54 years ago, Flowerree first came to Fort Myers during World War II. “Uncle Sam sent me down here in ’44, to Page Field taking care of a bunch of planes.” He received his initiation to mangoes during his two-year stay, but for a while he thought he didn’t like them. “People gave me mangoes, but they were apple mangoes, and I said ‘I don’t like this.” “The apple mango ain’t much good to eat,” he explains, “but it makes a real good root stock.” So you get it started, and then piggy-back it with a Kent or a Cambodiana or a Valencia Pride, which produce good-tasting fruit. Like mounting a creampuff on a brick. “Grafting trees is like men and women getting married,” says Flowerree. “They’re getting a little something from each other.” “Have you ever read Joyce Kilmer’s poem about trees?” he continues. “Only God can make a tree.” “Well it’s true up to a point, but He can do a heap better if I help Him.” “That Cambodiana there is 50 years old, and it was producing fruit red as a fire engine. But inside, the mangoes were full of hair – it was like a burlap bag. So I cut the top off and put a number of Valencia Pride grafts. “Before, the fruit wasn’t fit to eat. Now it’s growing the best mango in the world. I helped Him.”

“You know, it was a mango that Adam ate back in the Garden of Eden,” Flowerree reveals. “Why, the apple didn’t even exist then, and if it did, it would have been a crabapple and that wouldn’t have been very tempting.” “Well, when the Lord caught Adam taking the bite, he said, “I was saving that for myself, and here you are eating it instead of doing what you were told to do. “And the Lord said, ‘Go, man-go!”

Flowerree returned to Pine Island in 1955, ran a business in Bokeelia for 11 years, and “to make up for what it lost me and to make a living,” did contracting work on the side. “Then this land came up for sale, it seemed like a pretty good deal, so I bought it.” He’s been working for his dream ever since, and laboring year-round for those summer months when the people flock to Tropical Lane to buy his fruit. He lives alone in a trailer, but when he gets time he continues work on his house. But there isn’t much time, “and I don’t really need a house, anyway.” He’s been separated from his wife of 30 years about a season now, “but when I get aggravated enough I’ll go find me another one for the next 30 years.”

In the meantime, his life and his family are 1,000 mango trees.“I talk to those trees,” he says, “and they tell me what they want. These silly mangoes, anything I do for them they appreciate – I swear they do.” “Listen, a dog has some intelligence. A cat has some intelligence. Even a human being has a little bit.” “A plant has life, so why doesn’t it have intelligence?” He reasons. “’Course, it can’t wag its tail like a dog – but it appreciates.” And Flowerree appreciates his plants. “When you‘ve got mangoes to eat, you don’t need much else,” he says. But he never preserved them – never freezes or refrigerates or cans them. For he believes that like Christmas and sunshine, mangoes can’t be stockpiled. “I eat them while they’re in season,” he says, “and then I crave them the rest of the year.” “Mangoes – they’re a treat,” says Jack Flowerree – surely Pine Island’s main mango devotee – with affection and respect. “They aren’t just good – they’re the second best thing in the world.”