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This story originally appeared in The Conversation
By Jeffrey Miller, Colorado State University
Given the current popularity of avocado, it’s hard to believe that we were on the verge of not having it in our lives.
In my new book “The Avocado: A Global History” I explain how the avocado has survived a number of ecological and cultural demands that could easily have led to its extinction. Instead, the avocado persisted, flourished, and became one of the most famous photo foods in the world.
Picture: Avocados Froim Mexico via Instagram
A “spirit of evolution”
Avocados belong to the laurel family, the same group of plants that includes bay leaves and cinnamon. Laurels thrive in warm subtropical climates, and avocado developed in the warm climates of Central America during the Neogene period about 10 million years ago.
During the Pleistocene, which followed the Neogene, the largest animals on earth were so-called Megaherbivoren, giant animals, which fed almost exclusively vegetarian. Most of them, like the giant sloth, are much larger than today’s Megaherbivore, the African elephant. Huge herbivores from the Pleistocene Mesoamerica like the Gomphothere, the giant armadillo and the Toxodon needed hundreds of kilos of food every day to survive. Because foods such as leaves and grasses are very low in calories and fat, animals appreciated any fatty, energy-dense feed.
Here it comes: the avocado.
Megaherbivores have not fought for and eaten avocados as we do today. Instead, their throats and digestive tracts were so big that they simply swallowed the entire avocado and exited the undigested pit. In a process known as “endozoochorie”, the dung heap would serve as food for the next generation of avocado trees. While these giant animals roamed and grazed, they distributed the fruits over today’s Central Mexico.
But when the Megaherbivoren died, the fruit was in trouble. The remaining herbivores had gorges that were too small to hold a whole avocado seed, and dropped the giant seed so that their roots could emerge, making it difficult for the tree to survive. To be successful, it needs to be redistributed.
Avocados became what botanist Connie Barlow calls the “spirit of evolution”, a species that was supposed to be extinct but could somehow survive. What the avocado needed was the durability of its trees, which survive much longer than most fruit trees. There are 100-year-old trees still bearing fruit in California and 400-year-old trees in central Mexico.
Avocados lived so long and were so well adapted to their ecological niche that they were able to find their next disperser, the homo sapiens.
More “stops and starts”
The first people in Mesoamerica quickly appreciated the virtues of avocado. Groups like the Olmecs and Mayas started with the first avocado orchards and started growing specimens that tasted better and had fleshier fruits. A selection process that gave us the types of avocados that we love today. Avocados were so important to the Maya that the fourteenth month was named after them on their calendar.
In the 1830s, Dr. Floridian knew Henry Perrine Avocados when he was the United States Consul in Campeche, Mexico and thought they would be a great addition to Florida’s horticultural offering.
He sent some seeds to a friend on Indian Key, Florida, who planted them. Not long after, Perrine returned and the second Seminole war broke out. Perrine and his family sought refuge from the fighting, but one of the belligerent factions killed him in a raid on the island. The island was abandoned and avocados were forgotten.
Warm, humid Florida was hospitable to avocados, but California has many cold days in the winter months that hamper the growth of most varieties of avocados. This could have been another dead end for the fruits, but the first settlers in California tried to establish them in the United States after some attempts failed in the 1850s and 1860s. The producer Richter RB Ord received some cold-resistant specimens from Central Mexico. California required a cold-tolerant variety to have a profitable avocado industry. Without it, the avocado for Mexico could have remained a local delicacy.
One of the first cold-resistant specimens was a variety that received the name “Strong”. Strong avocado earned its name because it was one of the few varieties that survived the famous “Freeze of 13”, a time of cold weather that almost ruined the emerging Southern California fruit industry in the winter of 1913.
Until the 1940s, Fuerte was the most popular variety of avocados in America, accounting for approximately 75% of the avocados sold.
The hate is on the way
Since then, Fuerte has descended into niche products and accounts for only about 2% of the California market. Instead, most of the avocados sold today are the variety known as hate.
But the world would never have tried a hate avocado without a couple of kids with a premature palate.
The hate avocado is named after Rudolph Hass, a postman who lived in La Habra, California. Hatred comes from Milwaukee and joined the thousands of Americans who came to western California in the 1920s and 1930s.
After reading a brochure about the money that should be earned from growing avocado, he borrowed enough money to buy a small piece of land with strong avocado trees. In the late 1920s, Hass bought some avocado seeds to grow rhizomes for his budding nursery.
From one of these seeds grew a funny tree that rejected the branches of the fort into which hatred wanted to graft him. Two tree plants with different properties are combined. He was about to cut down the badly behaved tree, but his kids told him these little avocados were his favorites, so he gave in and kept the tree.
After trying them out for himself, he believed they had marketing potential and started selling them to people at work and in a city market.
Hass avocados slowly became popular, and in 1935, Hass patented the tree, the first patent granted to a tree in the United States. But most growers, rather than buying their tree, withdrew their patent and simply grafted their cuttings themselves. This practice was illegal, but its use in the 1930s was irregular.
Today, Americans eat £ 100m of avocados on Super Bowl Sunday and hate should have died as a rich man, but he never earned enough to leave the post office and it is estimated that he only made 5,000 in his life Dollars for the patent.
This article was translated by El Financiero. This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.