A is for Avocado

Three types of avocados exist: West Indian, Guatemalan, and Mexican. The West Indian avocado isn’t adaptable to California conditions, rendering it useless to me. Guatemalan avocados are the rounder, less pear-shaped fruit with leathery rough skin. Guatemalan avocados are almost a mix of the other two varieties, subtropical, and susceptible to a hard frost. So that leaves the Mexican-race avocado the best suited for our Bay Area home.

Avocado trees grow quite large, hence making too much shade for my liking. An avocado tree wouldn’t be welcome in my yard. I do get to add it to my “almanac” however, as my in-laws have a tree that I’m close to. Avocado trees are fascinating–no other tree behaves in quite the same way. Most trees have either male or female flowers, and/or need another tree cultivar to pollinate its flowers. The avocado flower, however, has both male and female organs making it ‘structurally perfect’ or ‘bisexual,’ which is not unusual. What is unusual is that the avocado flower opens first as a female flower, remaining open for only two to three hours and closing again. The next day, that same flower will open again and instead of receiving pollen (as a female flower does) it now sheds pollen, as a male-stage flower. That flower will stay open for two to three hours, as well, and then close permanently. Honey bees transfer pollen from the male-stage flowers to the female-stage flowers. Complicated, isn’t it? How on Earth are the flowers open at just the right time, with a honey bee present?

As nature would have it, avocados can cross-pollinate with trees that have opposite schedules. For example, my in-laws might have an A-type tree where the female flowers open in the morning of the first day, and the male flowers open in the afternoon the next day. My in-laws likely have a neighbor who has a B-type tree where the female flowers open in the afternoon of the first day, and open as male flowers the next morning. Or not!

“The two flowering types behave with clocklike exactness only when the average temperature (night minimum and day maximum) is above about 70 degree F (21 degrees C). As the temperature falls, the daily openings for the functionally male and female flowers become delayed and irregular such that a single tree may have flowers in both the female and male stages at the same time, which explains how large blocks of just one cultivar set heavy crops via self-pollination.” (California Master Gardener Handbook, p. 585)

In a sentence: You can have one avocado tree and get plenty of fruit, but two avocado trees near each other could increase fruit set up to 150%.

In another sentence: Avocado trees have a strong tendency to alternate, or biennial, bearing, which means crops will vary from light crops one year to heavy crops the next (as do fig trees).

Our avocados are green when ripe, have a thin smooth skin, and become ripe from November through March. Getting a fruit crop in December excites me. I’m kind of missing fresh produce right about the time I get a bag of hard avocados. The avocado is a fruit that continues to ripen after it’s picked (unlike apricots).

The avocado tree is a hearty evergreen. Its main enemies are hard frosts and squirrels.

My kid eats more avocados than one might think humanly possible. In the winter, we get Grammy and Papa’s harvest. The rest of the year I will pay any amount of money to have ripe avocados on hand. An avocado is a super food to me because I can take one anywhere and give my kid a 400-600 calorie snack that will be satisfying, not necessarily an easy thing to do with a 47 pound three year old!

About master kindergardener

Santa Clara County Master Gardener since 2007, Mom since 2009, Gardener since birth.
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