(Roughly) Daily

“The avocado is a food without rival among the fruits, the veritable fruit of paradise”*…

The story of a fabulous fruit and of the Californian who made it widely available…

The most nutritious known fruit, the avocado — a mostly evergreen member of the laurel family — is a ghost of evolution that should have grown extinct when the animals that fed on it and disseminated its enormous seeds did. Mercifully, it did not. Ample in Europe and North American during the Ice Age, it somehow managed to survive in Mexico and spread from there. But even more impressively, it managed to survive its own self-defeating sexual relations — the botanical equivalent of the human wire-crossing Eric Berne described in his revelatory 1964 classic Games People Play.

Bald of petals though the tree’s small greenish blossoms may be, they are an example of “perfect flowers” — the botanical term for bisexual blooming plants, which can typically self-pollinate. The avocado, however, is far from reproductively self-sufficient due to an astonishing internal clock, which comes in two mirror-image varieties.

In some cultivars — like the Hass, Pinkerton, and Reed avocados — the blossoms open up into reproductive receptivity in their female guise each morning, then close by that afternoon; the following afternoon, they open in their male guise. Other cultivars — the Fuerte, Zutano, and Bacon avocado among them — bloom on the opposite schedule: female in the afternoon, male by morning.

This presents a Pyramus and Thisbe problem across the wall of time — while both partners inhabit the space of a single tree, they can’t reach each other across the day-parts and need to be pollinated by trees on the opposite schedule…

Ever since humans have cultivated Earth’s most nutritious fruit, they have tried to help the helpless romancer with various intervention strategies — grafting, planting trees with opposite blooming schedules near each other, even manually pollinating blossoms of the same tree.

The world’s most beloved avocado — the Hass — is the consequence of human interference consecrated by happenstance in the hands of a California mailman in the 1920s.

[There follows the remarkable tale of Rudolph Hass, whose avocados bring in more than a billion dollars a year for growers, accounting for four fifths of the American avocado industry.]

Today, every single Hass avocado in every neighborhood market that ever was and ever will be can be traced to a single mother tree grown by a destitute California mailman in 1926 — tender evidence that every tree is in some sense immortal, and a living testament to how chance and choice converge to shape our lives

Rudolph and Elizabeth Hass in front of the mother tree

Chance, Choice, and the Avocado: The Strange Evolutionary and Creative History of Earth’s Most Nutritious Fruit,” from @brainpicker in @brainpickings.

See also: “Here too it’s masquerade.”

David Fairchild

###

As we peel and pit, we might recall that it was on this date in 1837 that John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, a pair of successful Worcester chemists, began manufacturing Worcestershire sauce, a savory flavoring that capitalizes on umami. Their condiment, which was broadly available to the public the following year, faced down scores of imitators to become the dominant brand, which it remains.

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 28, 2022 at 1:00 am

%d bloggers like this: