This near relative of the peach has handsome peach-like blossoms, and the nut is botanically the pit of the fruit. But the thin, hard, fleshy part is not edible and splits open at maturity, releasing the nut or pit. De Candolle says: " There are many localities in the region extending from Mesopotamia and Turkestan to Algeria where excellent botanists have found the almond wild." He also says : "I remark finally that the difference between the bitter and sweet almonds was known to the Greeks and even to the Hebrews."
Whatever might have been its origin it was early distributed over the warm temperate parts of Europe and Asia. As introduced into California the varieties came largely from Spain and south France, but the imported varieties have now been mainly discarded in favor of locally grown seedlings. Professor Wickson says truthfully: "Thus far the almond has yielded more firewood than any other single fruit tree which has been largely planted in California." But he continues: "In spite of these facts the almond will remain an important California product through the satisfactory performance of trees enjoying favorable environment."
The trees are about as hardy as the peach, but they blossom early and the crop is liable to be cut off by frosts. Hence the trees in frosty localities have been taken out and the industry is now mainly confined to the nearly frostless localities. The varieties differ materially in season of flowering, and at this time the latest ones to bloom are being planted. But all bloom too early, and recent attention has been given to the varieties of Turkestan. As to the quality of the Turkestan varieties, the writer tested them at the Oriental fairs. They were smooth, symmetrical, plump, with thin shell, and gray in color - without the use of sulphur we were told. They came from the
valley of Zarafshan, of which Dr. Schuyler says: "The gardens constitute the beauty of this land. The long rows of poplar- and elm-trees, the vineyards, the dark foliage of the pomegranate over the walls, transport one to the plains of south France and Lombardy. In early spring the outskirts of the city, and indeed the whole valley, are one mass of pink and white with the bloom of almond, peach, cherry, apple, apricot, and plum, which perfume the air for miles around. Nowhere are fruits more abundant, and of some varieties it can be said that nowhere are they better."
As this valley is on the 40th parallel, in the heart of Asia, we may safely conclude that the varieties of the almond will flower later than those of Spanish extraction, and that the petals and all parts of the flower are less delicate. It is also probable that the Asiatic varieties have a better supply of pollen than those of moister climates. It is naturally and originally a dry-climate tree, and long growing in the moister air of south France and Spain seems to have rendered most varieties incapable of self-pollination, and they require intermingling to secure full crops of fruit.
The almond is grown to some extent in Florida and on the Gulf coast, but not commercially. The tree is about as hardy as the peach, and it sometimes bears full crops where varieties are mingled or when mixed with peach-trees.
It is propagated by budding on bitter-almond seedlings usually, but, like the peach, it can be grown on chicasa-plum stocks.
It may be possible to develop hardier varieties by crossing. The Siberian almond is hardy even in South Dakota and Minnesota. Botanically it is a true almond and bears regular crops of true almonds scarcely edible. By crossing with the paper-shell varieties we may secure hardy varieties with good quality of nut.