The Long, Local History Of The Avocado

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  • Post last modified:September 10, 2012
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Living and working along the coast for so many years, I was always struck by the number of old avocado orchards near the beach in Leucadia, Solana Beach and Encinitas. It seems that this amazing tree has been cultivated in California since 1871, when it was first introduced to Santa Barbara.

Aguacate or Palta, as they are known in Spanish, are originally from Pueblo Mexico. They have spread as far south as Peru and many cultivars can be found in the high equatorial mountains of Guatemala. This Guatemalan species (Persea Nubigenavar var. Guatemalensis) is known for its tolerance of cold temperatures down to 26 degrees.

It is believed that the Fuerte, or strong Mexican Avocado, is a descendant of one of these Guatemalan varieties. The Fuerte does not like the coast with its moisture and humidity and prefers a drier colder climate found several miles inland.

The flesh of the Fuerte is good and it has overall oil content of 18 percent.

I personally enjoy the Haas Cultivar, which most people know by its distinctive large round shape. This cultivar was “discovered” by a mail carrier that planted a seedling in La Habra Heights in 1926. His name was Rudolph Hass – and so the standard of the industry was born.

The oil content in a Haas avocado is 19 percent and the leaves of the avocado are also high in oils. As a result, the leaves do not decompose very quickly and build up as litter underneath a tightly planted avocado orchard. This can be beneficial against competing plants, but the leaf litter can also become a home to rodents and a root-rot causing fungus.

Haas avocadoes were cultivated along the coast in the late ‘30s because the temperatures and soils, such as those found in Leucadia, were excellent for drainage and planting. Avocados will not survive in locations where poor drainage or streambeds are located. Unfortunately, this fruit-producing tree requires large amounts of deep watering to produce viable avocadoes. And as we all know, the coastal areas, then and now, suffer from periodic drought conditions.

I have been up in quite a few of these trees. Trimming an avocado can be dangerous. The wood of the avocado tree is fairly weak and brittle. It is very important when trimming that you leave a good shade canopy above the trunk since the bark of the avocado is sun sensitive and branch dieback can occur from lack of shade. This is why you will see white reflective paint on the trunks of many old growth orchards.

Here, irrigation practices can really make or break the productivity of an orchard. In most cases, spray irrigation with spinning heads will cover the entire root zone with a drenching for 24 hours once a week during the summer months.

Avocado trees love a deep drenching followed by a drying out period. When winter comes, the grower should be on the lookout for the periodic dry spell between storms and have water at the ready. Proper watering will enhance the fruit production of the avocado and it will help prevent the infestation of fungi and viruses.

Dothiorella is a canker that infects the trunk of the tree. It causes dead patches on the bark that spreads to the maturing fruit, rotting the fruit as it hangs from the branches. Phytophthora Cinnamomi is a soil fungus that is usually fatal. Little can be done for this except to stop irrigation, use sterilized shovels, tools and shoes when working in these infected areas to prevent further contamination of the orchard.

The avocado is a beautiful tree for fruit and culture, and it has a rich history in this town.

Clinically, it has also been proven that a regular diet of avocado will reduce your cholesterol. So buy a few avo’s for your next chips and beer. One great trick to keeping the guacamole green when left standing,  is to take a fresh cut lime, squeezing the juice over the top of it. The acids from the citrus will keep this splendid fruit from turning brown.