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Green Gold


The Shawnee News-Star Gardening Article June 3 2020

Becky Emerson Carlberg

By the shopping cart parked in front of the avocado bin blocking all access was this mother with four kids milling around her.  She was methodically sacking four avocados to a bag and had already amassed five bags in her metal buggy.  Another lady came up and asked if she could please reach in and get a few avocados.  The mother began screaming these were her avocados.  While the two stood arguing, a man leaned over and snatched an avocado.  The second female pointed out the man just grabbed an avocado.  The mother reeled around and began yelling at him.  This gave the other lady a chance to pluck out a few of the forbidden fruits. Does this family only eat avocados?

South African grown avocados are destined for European and UK markets.  Of the two main avocado producing states in Mexico, Michoacan sends their produce to the US and Jalisco supplies Japan, Canada and Europe.  Fewer avocados are harvested in March and April, resulting in higher prices.  China, Peru, Australia, New Zealand and California round out the major avocado growers.  California has an especially strong crop this year.  Buy US.

Bad news.  Avocados are called 'green gold.'  Eleven billion pounds are consumed each year worldwide.  Michoacan MX leads in avocado production, but at irreparable environmental damage and costs.  Forest lands with diverse wildlife are being deliberately burned to bypass the Mexican law of land-use permits.  Forests stay unless they 'unintentionally' go up in smoke. The land can then be re-classified as commercial agriculture. Columbia is currently ripping apart cloud forests, often financed by drug cartels, to put in avocado plantations.  Coffee farmers are switching to the more lucrative avocados with plans to ship to Europe or the insatiable US.  Meanwhile the lungs of the earth are being destroyed.  Corona virus pales in comparison to this mass destruction.

The avocado (Persea americana) originated in the Tehuacan Valley in south-central Mexico and has been domesticated several times, resulting in three distinct landraces"Guatemalan, Mexican and West Indian.  Each is locally adapted to its environment.  Avocado pits found in Coxcatlin Cave in T. Valley have been dated to nearly 10,000 years old when the caves were used for shelter and food storage by family groups.

'The Ghosts of Evolution' by Connie Barlow is about fruits and their ghost partners.  Grocery store fruit sections are great places to find ghosts.  Papayas and Avocados were eaten by ground sloths (extinct elephant-sized sloths) and gomphotheres (extinct elephant-like animals).  Avocados were also relished by ghost glyptodonts (extinct huge armored relatives of the armadillo) and toxodons (toothy large hoofed mammals the size of an African black rhino).  We're talking big mouths and digestive tracks of creatures that lived millions of years ago.  Seems the avocado wanted its large slippery seed to be swallowed whole and then dispersed wrapped in its own fertilizer.

In the laurel family, the avocado has famous relatives:  Cinnamomum species (cinnamon spices), Laurus species (culinary herb bay leaf), and Sassafras (wildlife, aromatic oils and medicinal uses).  Each type A or B avocado tree produces both male and female flowers.  Type A female flowers are receptive in the morning, but male pollen is shed in the afternoon.  Type B flowers are ready for action in the afternoon well after the pollen has flown in the morning.  Thus, to match the timing of pollination, both A and B avocado tree types are needed, plus pollinators.  Growers employ honey bees to work in their orchards. Some cultivars bloom and set fruit in alternate years.  To speed things along, commercial avocado varieties are grafted onto hardy rootstocks.  After being planted, these trees may begin fruit production in two or more years.

We eat the avocado fruit (technically a berry) but toss the seed.  The berry begins life as one flower with one ovary. When mature, the giant berry has one large sepia-brown seed lined by thin tissue (endocarp) surrounded by thick buttery flesh (mesocarp) covered by a thin skin (exocarp),

How many of you have pierced the avocado seed with toothpicks (after first enjoying the rich, creamy meat) and suspended the seed in water?  In weeks the root radical begins to grow downward as the seed splits, followed by the shoot with small green leaves rising high in the sky.  Into a clean pot filled with coarse, well-drained soil goes the fledgling plant.  Water, but let the soil dry before watering again.  Avocado plants love sun.  If you continue to repot the plant as it grows and remember to put it in a sunny warm spot during winter, you can expect to harvest your own fruits in about 15 years.

Better get busy sprouting that seed!