Native to the Carribean, Mexico, South America, and Central America, the avocado is a perennial fruit from a tree which is usually either spherical or looks like an egg. Technically, it is actually a large berry which has a big seed in it. Avocados are a valuable fruit in the commercial world, and are cultivated in most tropical climates and some temperate climates throughout the world, such as in California. Avocados look like a pear-shaped fruit with green skin, which ripens after it has been harvested. Avocado trees are self-pollinating, and are propogated by grafting it in order to maintain the quality and quantity of the fruit.
The avocado originated in Puebla, Mexico. However, the native version is undomesticated and is known as a criollo. It has black skin, is small, but has a big seed in it. Historically, it seems to be an important part of Central and South American diets. The oldest evidence of the use of avocadoes was found in a cave in Coxcatlan in Puebla, Mexico. This was found to be dated from 10,000 BC.
In terms of cultivation, it has a really long history in Central and South America. A specimen found dating back to 900 AD was a water jar that was shaped like an avocado. This was found in the pre-Incan city of Can Chan. In Europe, the earliest written account of the avocado was by Martin Fernandez de Enciso who wrote in either 1518 or 1519 in his book, Suma De Geographia Que Trata De Todas Las Partidas Y Provincias Del Mundo. In English, the first ever written record was in 1696 by Hans Sloane, in a Jamaican plant index. It was later introduced into Indonesia in 1750, Brazil in 1809, Levant in 1908, and Australia and South Africa in the late 19th century.
Believe it or not, the word ‘avocado’ actually comes from the Nahuatl word ‘ahuacatl’, which means ‘testicle’ in English. This was a reference to the shape of the fruit. In fact, the Aztecs refered to the avocado as the fertility fruit.
The avocado tree gorws up to 20 meters tall, and has leaves that are usually between 12 to 25 cenitmetres long. Its flowers are greenish yellow, and about 5-10mm wide. The fruit is usually 7cm – 20cm long and weight on average between 100g – 1000g. The seed of an avocado is between 5-6.4cm long.
An average avocado tree produces 1200 avocados a year. In a commercial orchard, 7 tonnes per hectare are produced per year, while some achieve 20 tonnes per hectare a year. However, biennial bearing may be a problem where heavy crops are achieved in one year, and poor yields are achieved in the next. In addition, the avocado tree does not like cold temperatures, although the Hass avocado can survive in -1°C climates.