This tree has long been used by Amerindian populations and is known for its delicious fruit, which are used in many foods and cosmetic products. Capable of reaching considerable heights, the avocado trees of Val Rahmeh peak at 15 metres tall.
Persea is derived from Greek ‘persea’, referring to a tree species with likely Persian origins found in Egypt. Americana means “from America”.
Description and flowering period
Persea americana is a tropical fruit-tree, reaching up to 20 meters in height. Its bark is grey and ridged and its numerous young branchlets – highly susceptible to wind damage – turn from olive-green to a greyish colour as they grow. The old leaves fall only once the new leaves are in place which makes the tree appear persistent. They are lanceolate, deeply veined, tough and waxy. At first reddish in colour, they later turn dark green. The flowers are small, star-shaped, a shade of greenish-yellow and are borne in large clusters. The fruit is a large single-seed berry. Depending on varieties, it can be pear-shaped, ovoid, or spherical. Its skin can be green or brown, smooth or pebbled. The flesh is fatty and yellow, while the seed is ivory-white and covered with a brown sheath.
It requires a rich, deep, fresh yet well-drained soil in a full sun or part-shade location sheltered from winds. It appreciates average temperatures of around 15°C, yet some varieties can tolerate short spells of frosts of about -2°C (some varieties could even tolerate -10°C).
- Food & drink: The fruit is eaten raw or mashed (guacamole), the leaves are used as spice in Mexican cooking.
- Medicinal: The fruit is consumed to fight “bad cholesterol”, increase cardiac health (it is a source of magnesium and other minerals and trace-elements as well as mono-unsaturated fats). It has antioxidant properties and a high vitamin content. Its antibacterial flesh is also used as skincare.
- Miscellaneous: Avocado-based massage oil, red ink obtained from the avocado pit was used by Spanish conquistadors.
It was formerly known under the name ‘Indian pear’ or ‘alligator pear’ due to its shape and skin texture. In China, it is referred to as ‘butter-pear’ due to its flesh’s texture and colour. The name avocado is from the Spanish word aguacate, itself borrowed from the Nahuatl Amerindian language word ahuacatl meaning testicle, alluding to the fruit’s shape.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN