Persea americana

Lauraceae (laurel family)
Tropical America
Persea americana leaf. From An Illustrated Manual of Pacific Coast Trees, Howard E. McMinn & Evelyn Maino

As one approaches the Inner Quad from Serra Mall, there is a shady grove left of noble but waning avocado trees left of Memorial Court 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 4 by 10 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. A mighty three-trunked tree west of Memorial Church, much too close to the stone work to have been placed by a landscaper, may have been started in a campus office. Another is between the McCullough and Durand buildings, perhaps of similar origin.

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.

Persea thunbergii has been seen on local city streets and parking lots in recent years, for example at the Century 20 Theater Complex in Redwood City.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings added the note on P. thunbergii.