A 1936 Yearbook of the California Avocado Association, donated recently to the Fallbrook Historical Society by Virginia McDonald, has some interesting information about our area, and about the avocado industry.

An advertisement on page 260 indicates that the B.M.McDonald Avocado Nursery (owned by Virginia's father-in-law) will have 12,000 avocado trees ready to sell by June 1, 1937. They will be from buds personally selected from the nursery's own trees, whose individual records show heavy and regular production. The telephone number for the Nursery is 26W.

Avocados Hit By Cold Wave. This article indicates that there would be a large market for new avocado trees because, as the Yearbook went to press, a second cold wave had struck the Southern California industry, especially San Diego County, which had escaped much damage in the earlier freeze (thermometer readings ranged from 17 to 29 degrees). Groves suffering the least damage were those on well air-drained, elevated hillsides.

Looking Back. The president of the Association noted that a major objective of the Association this year was to gather all historical material pertaining to the avocado industry and place it for safe keeping in the fireproof library at UCLA. The following reports were in response to the president's call. Wilson Popenoe was an early avocado propagator in Altadena, working for the East India Nursery begun by his father. His investigations showed that avocados were brought into California in 1856 by the State Agricultural Society, and to Santa Barbara in 1871 by Judge Ord. None of these early trees survived. In the 1890's, Juan Murrieta planted seeds of avocados sent to him from Mexico, and he distributed seeds and seedlings to others in the area. This led eventually to the commercial development of avocados in Southern California.

A.D. Shamel, USDA, Riverside, shared his visit to the parent Fuerte tree in Mexico. After stopping in Mexico City, he described following a fine automobile road south, across what was formerly Lake Taxcoco of the Aztecs. As the road took him over the mountain, there were deciduous oaks on the way up, pine trees near the pass (12,00 feet), and a view of snow-capped Popocateptl (17,000'). Descending into the valley, he passed Cholulu, with its great Aztec pyramid and many Spanish churches. The home of Alexandro LeBlanc at Atlixco was surrounded by a high wall enclosing an acre of land with a profusion of beautiful flowers and interesting trees. The parent Fuerte was located in the patio of the LeBlanc house, and had a crop of about 500 avocados. Senora Delfina LeBlanc told Shamel that the Fuerte seedling tree was first noticed in 1908, soon after it began to bear fruit. In 1911 an agent for Mr. F.O. Popenoe's nursery in Altadena cut buds from it, and his label was still visible. The name Fuerte was given to it because it was strong, i.e., more resistant, to extreme climatic conditions in Southern California in the 1913-1914 season.

Wm. Hertrich, curator of Huntington Botanical Gardens, referred to an 1851 publication of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, England. It said that avocado was a misnomer for "Aguacate," the name used for the fruit in Lima, Peru, and it could find no explanation for why it was called "alligator pear." Hertrich related that, in 1905, Mr. Huntington showed him some seeds and asked him if he knew what they were. When Hertrich said avocado, Huntington replied no, that they were alligator pear seeds whose fruit he had eaten at the Jonathan Club. At Huntington's request, Hertrich planted them in the Botanic Garden, starting the first orchard in Southern California.

H.J.Webber contributed an early sketch of an avocado ("Acoyates") from Samuel Champlain's narrative of his 1599 voyage to the West Indies and Mexico (Champlain is the same French explorer who later founded Quebec). The narrative was translated by the Hakluyt Society in 1859. In it, the Aztec name for avocado is given: "Ahuacahuit," as well as the Spanish variations: "Aguacat," "Avorat," "Avogade" and "Avocat."

Personalities. Juan Murrieta was one of the introducers and earliest growers of avocados in California. He was a resident of Temecula when it was still a part of San Diego County. Murrieta was in the sheep business, and owned the Temecula and Pauba ranchos until 1886. At that time, he sold his land and business, and moved to Los Angeles, where he became Los Angeles County's first deputy sheriff, serving until 1927. He was acquainted with the Wells Fargo agent at Atlixco, Mexico, who sent him different kinds of avocado fruit. He and Mrs. Murrieta, the former Adele Golsh, enjoyed gardening, and often exhibited in Los Angeles flower shows. (Murrieta's photograph is on page 45.)

Membership. There were 375 Association members in 1936. Members were from places as diverse as Australia, Cuba, Hawaii, Palestine, South Africa, the USSR, and Brazil, Chile and Peru. Five members were from Fallbrook: B.M.McDonald, E.J.O'Hearn, West F.Ross, W.L.Truitt, and W.W.Webster.

Copyright © 1998 by Fallbrook Historical Society
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Comments and feedback: Elizabeth Yamaguchi
Last update: 25 October 1998.