It's no surprise that avocado trees (Persea spp) are native to Mexico, because Mexican cuisine is famed for thick, avocado-based guacamole. The trees are evergreen and grow rapidly in sunny locations. They are usually grown for their fruits, which are also called avocados.
The avocado fruit has creamy green flesh with a rich, buttery taste. At the center of the flesh is a large seed. It's easy to sprout the seeds to grow avocados in containers indoors at home. Outdoors, avocado trees grow to 40 feet tall and require warm temperatures and mild winters to thrive.
Avocado Growing Requirements
Avocados are subtropical understory trees, accustomed to warm weather and semihumid climates. They only grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11, but they don't do well throughout those zones. Any areas that get extreme heat in the summer or frost, chilly winds or snow in the winter are not avocado territory. The trees generally require moderate temperatures year-round, although some are more cold hardy than others.
Avocado trees are divided into three general groups--West Indian, Guatemalan and Mexican--and the ideal growing range for each type is slightly different. West Indian avocados grow best in warm climates, while Mexican avocados--native to the tropical highlands--are the most cold hardy and can survive temperatures down to 26 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also the smallest, weighing less than 1 pound. Fruit of the other types can weigh up to 5 pounds.
The fruit produced by these varieties also differs. Mexican variety avocados are small, with papery-smooth skins, while Guatemalan avocado skin is hard and full of warts. West Indian avocados are shiny with thin skin.
Avocado Growing Regions in the U.S.
Avocados are grown commercially in parts of Florida, California and Hawaii. In Florida, most are grown in Miami-Dade County and Collier County. In California, the area between San Luis Obispo and San Diego is avocado country, and one of San Diego County's nicknames is Avocado County.
More than 200 varieties of avocado grow in Hawaii, including trees producing some of the largest avocado fruit in the world. Over half of commercial avocados produced in Hawaii are the 'Sharwil' cultivar, a hybrid cross of Mexican and Guatemalan varieties. The fruit is green-skinned even in maturity, and can weight up to 20 ounces. Experts differ as to how Sarwils compare with the smaller avocados produced on the mainland.
Avocado Growing Regions in the World
The U.S. does not hold a monopoly on growing avocados. In fact, other countries grow many more of these trees than the States do. Most avocados are grown in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Mexico's commercial production extends over some 410,000 acres and occurs largely in the states of Puebla, Morelos, Michoacán, Nayarit and Mexico.
The Dominican Republic comes in second in terms of avocado production. Other important avocado producing nations include Peru, Colombia and Indonesia.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.