Tree of the week: Persea americana – Avocado

The Avocado is a dense, evergreen tree, shedding many leaves in early spring. It is fast growing and can reach 24 m, although usually less, and generally branches to form a broad tree. It is believed that Avocado may have originated in southern Mexico but was cultivated from the Rio Grande to central Peru. The Avocado cultivars grown in South Africa are Fuerte, Hass, Pinkerton, Ryan, Reed and Bacon.

Leaves of this tree are alternate, glossy, elliptic and dark green with paler veins. They normally remain on the tree for 2 to 3 years. Flowers appear on the tree from January to March (before the first seasonal growth) in terminal panicles of 200 to 300 small yellow-green blooms. The flowers attract bees and hoverflies and pollination is usually good, except during cool weather. Off-season blooms may appear during the year and often set fruit. Some cultivars bloom and set fruit in alternate years. The fruit needs to be removed from the tree before it softens. If the fruit is removed before it has reached maturity it will not soften, and will remain rubbery and inedible.

Persea americana prefers a cool subtropical climate where rainfall is fairly high. The tree can tolerate light frost but not during flowering and fruit set (August to September). Because of this tree’s frost sensitivity, homeowners are encouraged to plant this tree in the backyard as it tends to be warmer. Roots of this tree are highly competitive and will choke out nearby plants.