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Smithsonian.com:"Why the Avocado Should Have Gone the Way of the Dodo"

  • z
  • zippo Oct 31, 2013 05:19 PM

from Smithsonian.com: "The avocado is a fruit of a different time. The plant hit its evolutionary prime during the beginning of the Cenozoic era when megafauna, including mammoths, horses, gomphotheres and giant ground sloths (some of them weighing more than a UPS truck) roamed across North America, from Oregon to the panhandle of Florida. The fruit attracted these very large animals (megafauna by definition weigh at least 100 pounds) that would then eat it whole, travel far distances and defecate, leaving the seed to grow in a new place. That’s the goal of all botanical fruits, really. Survival and growth via seed dispersal."

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/...

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  1. Fascinating zippo. I didn't know anything about the avocados backstory nor did I know the Hass variety is named after a postal employee.

    1. I thought it may be because avocados also are wingless. Interesting article, thanks.

      1. I weigh significantly over 100 lbs, but do not want to pass so much as a cherry pit. And the fuss people make over grape seeds! Are we all evolved to be wimps?!?

        2 Replies
        1. re: julesrules

          When I was a tyke my parents encouraged me to swallow the olive pits. I later learned I was an unplanned child.

          1. re: Veggo

            My Grandpa got upset with me for swallowing olive pits when I was a few years old. He made me jump up and down to see if he could hear them in my stomach. If he could, I'd have to go to the doctor. My fear and dislike of doctors (they gave you shots!) made me stop eating the pits of olives, seeds of watermelon, pits of cherries, etc. LOL!

        2. What I don't see in this article is enough discussion of the human factor. Homo sapiens were fully evolved and had arrived in the Americas 14,000 or more years ago when the largest mammals were dying out (perhaps with human assistance). Even without advanced agriculture, people would have collected fruit and carried it to other places, discarding seeds here and there.

          6 Replies
          1. re: GH1618

            I dunno, we never had any olive trees sprouting up in our woods.

            1. re: GH1618

              Avocado seeds - at least the ones from the tree in my yard - will sometimes sprout while in the fruit. The ancient Meso-Americans were great agriculturalists and plant hybridizers (thanks for the tomatoes, peppers and maize, guys!) so it's easy to see how they may have developed a taste for avocados and cultivated them.

              Anyone here remember the 70s? Sprouting avocado seeds was a big thing back then.

              ETA: there are a lot of different kinds of avocados, just as there are many types of apples. There are some small ones that a smaller animal could easily eat whole. My neighbor's dogs often eat the fruits the blasted squirrels take one bite of and through on the ground, so a dog-like preditor could be a distribution means. And contrary to the article, I've never seen an avocado tree that has the fruits growing in pairs.

              1. re: tardigrade

                "The ancient Meso-Americans were great agriculturalists and plant hybridizers (thanks for the tomatoes, peppers and maize, guys!) so it's easy to see how they may have developed a taste for avocados and cultivated them."

                Yes, that's the most annoying thing about the article - like guinea pigs and corn, avocados are one of the agricultural innovations of Native America. As Nikolai Vavilov figured out over a hundred years ago, by the way. And as with guinea pigs and corn, there is some debate as to what the "wild" antecedent is - what the article is calling "wild" avocados I always thought were more "feral" avocados - cultivars transplanted by animals and changing back to a form more sustainable by the plant without human help.

                We had avocado trees in our yard in LA growing up, planted around 1915 by the previous owner of the house. I gave myself a headache years ago trying without success to identify what my parents said were called "Mission" avocados (thin, bright green skins, large pit, very rich buttery fruit) on the University of California website. That so much hybridization could have happened in just a century or so gives me some idea of how much hybridization must have been done over the several millennia the Native Mexicans spent on the project.

                1. re: ratgirlagogo

                  The other annoying thing about this article (headline) is that the Dodo did not get extinct because it could not adapt to changing conditions. The Dodo became extinct the same reason the Passenger Pigeon became extinct, over harvesting by mankind.

                  1. re: John E.

                    Whoops! Yes, you're right, that's an even bigger groaner.

                  2. re: ratgirlagogo

                    I'm getting a big kick out of imagining a "feral" avocado. There must be a tee-shirt in there somewhere.

              2. What I found interesting is that the Aztec word for avocado means 'testicle' and the Spanish word for avocado is a similar word meaning 'lawyer'.

                3 Replies
                1. re: John E.

                  Aguacate and abogado dont seem too similar to me but to each his own

                  1. re: enbell

                    I think John E. was alluding to this definition, also used in the Smithsonian article:

                    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/avocado

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      :-)

                2. Honey Locusts have mad survival skills. I hate them.

                  1. I like planting my avocado pits, the plant looks like a child's drawing of a plant. unfortunately as I learned avocados have 'gender issues' so mine have never fruited...

                    as a child my mother always said I was on the verge of growing potatoes in my ears. which to her dismay sounded really appealing to me.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: hill food

                      I know, I was totally bummed when i found out that, in fact, the gum I'd been swallowing had not formed into a large ball in my stomach. How cool would that have been (if surgically removed for viewing purposes)?

                      1. re: tcamp

                        You guys are hilarious! I used to be warned that chewing on my long hair would also form a huge ball in my stomach that would have to be surgically removed. My fear of doctors made that habit stop more than all the scoldings in the world could have done.

                        1. re: tcamp

                          Google "bezoar" to find out.

                      2. There was an entire book written on this topic severeral years ago, about not just avocado's, but honey locusts and other large seeded fruit trees. The point of the book was that humans were the sole distributors of the seed, and to investigate what had been the natural distributors before the arrival of humans in the Americas. The conclusion was gomphotheres, mastodons, and horses.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: EricMM

                          Interesting. Do you remember the name of the book or the author? I'd like to see if my library can get it for me.

                          1. re: EricMM

                            As we know, horses like apples, which don't fall far from the tree.