Avocados are not native to Australia. But they are now grown in nearly every part. These versatile trees can be grown in just about any tropical or semi-tropical region, and in a few other areas with just a little bit of coddling.
Seeds were brought to Australia in 1840. They were planted in the Australian Botanical Garden and then they mostly just sat there. Avocados were not super popular as fruits or vegetables (they are technically a berry) so they were mostly a curiosity.
There are some disadvantages to growing an avocado tree. First off they can grow to be huge trees, as much as twelve meters tall. That doesn’t work very well in most people’s back yards. Second, they can be a little bit picky, and there are different cultivars that grow in different places. Haas is the most popular, and it likes a tropical area, which mostly means northeast Australia, near the coast.
An avocado tree is what is known in agriculture as a heavy feeder. That means that to do its best, it needs a rich soil that is frequently replenished with fertilizer. They need a nice mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, with a little zinc thrown in on the side.
They have one other small drawback: they love water, but they hate wet feet. The big solution for this was drip irrigation, which could keep the soil moist, but not sodden. This made happy avocado trees.
The final difficulty with avocado trees is that it takes a really long time to grow one from seed. The work-around for this, of course, is grafting. By grafting shoots from an established tree onto generic root stock, the avocado gets a head start on growth, and starts producing fruit much sooner.
Once the trees were being cultivated in meaningful amounts, the next step was to get folks to eat them. An avocado has a flavor like no other, and there is a specific stage at which it actually tastes good. That is not usually the stage at which it is shipped to the supermarket. An avocado that is a bit green has a waxy taste, and is hard. One that has gotten too ripe has a sort of rancid vinegary smell – and this stage it is mostly good for compost. In between these two culinary disasters is the “just right” avocado. Its skin has turned a little bit dark, it is soft if pressed lightly, and when cut in half, it can be scooped out of the skin with a spoon. For avocado purists, just add a little salt and a dash of pepper, and eat that delicious berry directly out of the skin for a lunch that can’t be beat.
With such a specialized flavor, it took a little selling to get people to try it. A 1915 health report indicated that the chubby green berry was stuffed full of vitamins and the good kind of monounsaturated fat. In the 1990s, someone got the idea of serving it on toast with a tomato. And there was “smashed avocado”, especially when Mexican seasonings turn it into guacamole. Add a little lime, some peppers…yes, indeed, good eating.
Since one species or other could be grown all over Australia, avocados have become something of a staple. They are highly prized by people who are looking for a “super food” to deliver nutrients and good flavor without a lot of starch or sugar.
Avocados are grown and sold domestically in Australia the year around. Since the 1960s and 1970s, they have been a household staple. They are a valuable export, as well. In 2018/19, Australia produced 85,546 tons of avocados. Some were sold and consumed domestically, but more were exported. The income from exports has increased from $6 million in 2008/9, to $19.6 million in 2018/19. Now, that’s a lot of avocados!
So, from being a do-nothing ornamental plant in the botanical gardens to a multi-million-dollar business is quite a jump in a little over a century. You can have some fun growing an avocado plant in your kitchen, or, if you live in the right kind of area, you can visit a plant nursery, pick up a started tree or two and have your own little avocado plantation. Just make sure you have plenty of room around those trees, well drained soil, and facilities for a drip irrigation system.
Or you can just grow an avocado tree in a container because they are a pretty tree. Dwarf avocado trees Wurtz or Little Cado are good choices for container trees.