Avocado (Persea americana)
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The avocado (Persea americana) is a tree native to Mexico and Central America, classified in the flowering plant family Lauraceae. The name “avocado” also refers to the fruit of the tree with an egg-shaped pit.
The tree grows to 20 metres (65 ft), with alternately arranged, leaves, 12–25 centimetres long. The flowers are inconspicuous, greenish-yellow, 5–10 millimetres wide. The pear-shaped fruit is botanically a drupe, from 7 to 20 centimetres long, weighs between 100 and 1000 grams, and has a large central seed, 3 to 5 centimetres in diameter.
An average avocado tree produces about 120 avocados annually. Commercial orchards produce an average of 7 tonnes per hectare each year, with some orchards achieving 20 tonnes per hectare. Biennial bearing can be a problem, with heavy crops in one year being followed by poor yields the next. The fruit is sometimes called an avocado pear or alligator pear, due to its shape and rough green skin. The avocado tree does not tolerate freezing temperatures, and can be grown only in subtropical or tropical climates.
The word “avocado” comes from the Spanish word aguacate, which derives in turn from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word ahuacatl, meaning “testicle”, because of its shape. In some countries of South America such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay, the avocado is known by its Quechua name, palta. In other Spanish-speaking countries it is called aguacate, and in Portuguese it is abacate. The name “avocado pear” is sometimes used in English, as are “alligator pear” and “butter pear”. The Nahuatl ahuacatl can be compounded with other words, as in ahuacamolli, meaning “avocado soup or sauce”, from which the Mexican Spanish word guacamole derives.
The subtropical species needs a climate without frost and little wind. When mild frost does occur, the fruit drops from the tree, reducing the yield, although the cultivar Hass can tolerate temperatures down to −1°C. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, avocado trees cannot sustain the frost. Avocado farmers in California lost hundreds of millions of dollars in 2006 due to a temperature drop. The trees also need well aerated soils, ideally more than 1 m deep. Yield is reduced when the irrigation water is highly saline. These soil and climate conditions are met only in a few areas of the world, particularly in southern Spain, the Levant, South Africa, Peru, parts of central and northern Chile, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico and Central America, the center of origin and diversity of this species. Each region has different types of cultivars. Mexico is the largest producer of the Hass variety, with over 1 million tonnes produced annually.