A genus of evergreen trees mainly confined to tropical and warm temperate regions, but extending as far north as Japan, S. Korea, and central China. Leaves alternate, pinnately veined. Flowers bisexual, in axillary inflorescences. Perianth segments six; stamens twelve in four rows, the innermost set reduced to staminodes. Pistil one, with a single style. Fruit a fleshy berry, usually with the perianth-segments persistent at the base, one-seeded. The species treated below is, so far as is known, the only one truly hardy in the open air in the British Isles. It was originally described in Machilus, but this genus has been included in Persea by Kostermans (Reinwardtia, Vol. 6, pp. 189-94). P. borbonia (L.) Spreng. of the south-eastern USA, and P. lingue Nees of Chile, could probably be grown outdoors in the mildest parts. The latter is a valuable but rare timber tree, with very handsome fruits.
The best known species of Persea is P. americana Mill. (P. gratissima Gaertn. f.), the fruit of which is the avocado of commerce. Cultivated in the warmer parts of the New World since pre-Columbian times, its distribution as a wild tree is not known for certain, but it is probably native from southern Mexico to northern South America. It is now grown as an orchard tree in many of the warmer parts of the world, including the Mediterranean region. There are many named varieties, propagated by budding, which differ in the size of their fruits, in the texture of the skin, which varies from leathery and smooth to shell-like and warted; and in their season of fruiting. The common name derives from the Mexican ‘ahuacatl’ through the Spanish ‘aguacate’.
From the Supplement (Vol. V)
The genus Machilus was included in Persea by Kostermans in Reinwardtia, Vol. 6, pp. 189-94(1962).