Persea americana. AVOCADO. Tropical America
LAURACEAE (Laurel family)

As one approaches the Inner Quad from Serra Mall, there is a shady grove left of Memorial Court with a grove of noble avocado trees known to generations of alumni. The ripe avocados that may be found from time to time often attract enterprising harvesters and with luck one may find windfalls. The sheltered courtyard situation has enabled the trees to thrive with occasional signs of frostbite on the glossy oval leaves, up to 10 by 4 inches in size. Two of the trees are thought to be 'Fuerte'; the others are Guatemalan.

In 1979 seven of the old avocados were to be sacrificed to facilitate reconstruction of Building 120 of the Main Quad, a tricky project that involved gutting the building while leaving the external sandstone blocks in place. Replacement cost of the trees was estimated at $18,360. Academic Secretary Eric Hutchinson led a revolt during which he threatened that Bracewell would chain himself to the first avocado to be bulldozed. As a compromise, six of the seven were reprieved (Stanford Daily, Jan. 15, 1980). A similar survival ratio was noticed later when the picturesque red-spotted gums on Frenchman's Hill were to be axed and residents protested. In the case of the avocados, however, two replacements were later planted and by 2000 they were in vigorous, healthy condition, identifiable by their smooth trunks, and bearing fruit.

As is well known to secretaries, the seeds of store-bought avocados can be germinated and grown as good office plants. There is an avocado tree between the McCullough and Durand buildings that looks suspiciously like an escapee from some secretary's desk. There is another mighty three-trunked tree west of Memorial Church, much too close to the stone work to have been placed by a landscaper.

A dozen or more cultivars are available in markets, ranging from the smaller, dark purple ‘Hass’ to the large green ‘Pinkerton’. ‘Bacon’ and ‘Zuttano’ are other California varieties. Florida avocados, which derive from the West Indies rather than from Guatemala, are less favored. Jaguars eat avocados. Their use at sea gave rise to the term “naval butter.” The name avocado derives from Náhuatl ahuácatl, meaning testicle. The Spanish name for the tree is aguacate.

Illus.: McMinn, Howard E. and Evelyn Maino. 1951. An illustrated manual of Pacific coast trees; with lists of trees recommended for various uses on the Pacific coast by H. W. Shepherd. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

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Related material: Persea thunbergii has been seen on local city streets and parking lots in recent years, e.g., Century 21 Theater Complex in Redwood City.

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