North American horticulturists are accustomed to view the avocado as one of the greatest undeveloped sources of food which the tropics offer at the present day. From their standpoint they are correct, but the inhabitants of Mexico and Central America would consider it more logical to assert that the Irish potato is a new crop deserving of extensive cultivation. North Americans view the avocado as a possibility, but to the aboriginal inhabitants of tropical America it is a realized possibility.
Plate I. The Nimlioh avocado.
"Four or five tortillas [corn cakes], an avocado, and a cup of coffee, - this is a good meal," say the. Indians of Guatemala.
It is precisely this condition, - the importance of the avocado as a food in those parts of tropical America where it has been grown since immemorial times, - that has led students of this fruit in the United States to predict that avocado culture will some day become more important than citrus culture in California and Florida.
To a certain extent, the avocado takes the place of meat in the dietary of the Central Americans. It is appetizing, it is nourishing, it is cheap, and it is available throughout most of the year. When these last two conditions have been re-produced in the United States, will not the avocado become a staple article of diet with millions of people?
There is every reason to believe that eventually the avocado will be as familiar to American housewives as the banana is to-day. The increasing scarcity of meat, and the fact that an acre of land will yield a larger amount of food when planted to avocados than it will in any other tree crop known at present, assures the future importance of the avocado industry in this country.
Horticulturally speaking, the avocado is a new fruit. In Central America it has been grown mainly as a dooryard tree, and no care has been given to its propagation or culture. During the last fifteen years the horticulturists of California and Florida have devoted systematic attention to vegetative propagation, to cultural methods, and to the development of superior varieties. In these two states the avocado has been regarded as a fruit of great commercial possibilities. Cuba, Porto Rico, and several other countries are also giving serious consideration to commercial avocado culture.
During summer and autumn the avocado is regularly offered in the markets of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other large cities. Many persons who ten years ago were not even familiar with its name have now learned to appreciate the merits of this unique fruit. However, production is not yet great enough to place the avocado in the position which ultimately it must occupy, - that of a staple foodstuff, rather than a luxury or a salad-fruit.
The avocado orchards of California, Florida, Cuba, and Porto Rico now have a total area approaching one thousand acres. As with every young horticultural industry, the problems of propagation, culture, and marketing have been numerous, and many of them remain to be solved. The avocado growers of California have formed a cooperative organization for the purpose of attacking these problems more efficiently. Especially important is the question of varieties, which must, in many cases, be settled individually for each locality. Experience of the last fifteen years has brought to light many of the fundamental requirements of the avocado tree and has suggested cultural practices and methods which are producing satisfactory results. In addition, problems of budding and grafting have been mastered, and these means of propagation are practiced successfully by nurserymen, with the result that trees of the best varieties are obtainable in quantities which permit of extensive commercial plantings. A large number of varieties is being tested, and experience in handling and marketing the fruit is being gained rapidly.