The avocado (Spanish aguacate, cura, cupandra, or palta; Portugese abacate, French avocatier) is a berry and the only well known edible fruit-bearing member of the laurel family. Long native to the Americas, by 1653 three varieties had been identified: Guatemalan, Mexican, and West Indian.
In 1696 an Irishman, Sir Hans Sloane, is thought to have coined the word ‘avocado’ when he included it in a catalogue of Jamaican plants, including its popular nickname ‘alligator pear’ due to its bumpy skin. Other monikers include ‘midshipman’s butter’ and ‘butter pear’ as well as the ‘avogavo pears’ George Washington wrote of during a visit to Barbados in 1751. Varieties were cultivated and crossbred over the next century, and though avocados were introduced to Florida in 1833, they did not become a phenomenon until the 2000s, long after they began appearing in salads in the 1950s.
Skin texture can be bumpy or smooth and waxy. Color, too, can vary from bright green to deep evergreen, emerald, or even an eggplant hue. Commercial and aesthetic rivalries exist between Florida and California varieties; California fruits are often considered as having a higher fat content, while Florida iterations are less caloric, such as the Slimcado hybrid. Viewed as a unicorn of U.S. produce, demand for avocados increased sevenfold in three decades and continues to climb as more Americans eat the fruit as a snack and find inventive ways to include them in meals throughout the day.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Purdue University, University of California, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
The three main types of avocados—West Indian, Guatemalan, and Mexican—vary in size, color, and flesh. West Indian varieties have leathery, pliable, nongranular skin and have low oil content. The skin of Guatemalan varieties ranges from thin to very thick, and granular.
Mexican varieties have high oil content (up to 30%) with thin and tender skin. They are also more cold-resistant yet the least tolerant of salt. The least cold tolerant are West Indian types, yet they have a high salt tolerance. Salt tolerance is important as soil salinity can reduce fruit yields.
Popular hybrids include Guatemalan-West Indian and Guatemalan-Mexican. Pure Guatemalan avocados are not conducive to Florida growing conditions, but Guatemalan-West Indian hybrids thrive in the state. Hass avocados are perhaps the most recognizable variety of the Guatemalan-Mexican hybrids.
Florida avocados can be described as more aqueous and are known for having less fat and calories like the well-marketed Slimcado. Some avocado-purveyors equate higher fat content with better flavor; regardless, production in Mexico, as well as Central and South America continues to surge to meet demand throughout North America and the rest of the world.
References: Purdue University, Texas A&M University, University of California, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
PESTS & DISEASE
Western avocado leafroller is a caterpillar that causes severe damage by consuming the tree’s leaves and feeding on the fruit itself. Avocado thrips lay their eggs on the underside of leaves and feed on the fruit, damaging the skin. They also feed on the leaves, producing scars and a bronzed hue.
The omnivorous looper also feeds on leaves; healthy trees can usually tolerate the damage but extensive leaf loss can cause sunburn and affect yields the following year. Most damage occurs when loopers eat the fruit, which can scar and distort skin. Other pests of concern include beetles, fruit flies, mites, and mealybugs, though many insects can be neutralized through the release of beneficial predators.
Phytophthora cinnamomi or avocado root rot is minimized by tolerant rootstocks. Anthracnose is recognized by unhealthy or dead leaves, but can affect the flowers, fruit, and twigs as well. Yellow spots on leaves will turn brown before spreading to the whole leaf. Trees may drop leaves prematurely if disease is severe. Affected fruit will have small sunken areas with lesions becoming darker and larger after harvest.
Bacterial canker is noticeable on the bark as slightly sunken, dark areas. White powder forms around or over the lesion, which is left behind after fluids dry. Scab produces spots that become sunken in their center as fruit matures. Lesions on leaves are less noticeable, as they are more prevalent on the upper canopy than lower branches. Spots start out small but increase in size until the center drops out. Other diseases to look out for include leaf-tip burn, leaf spot, and other types of rot.
References: University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, UC Davis Integrated Pest Management, University of Florida/ IFAS Extension.