So Hass took every cent he had and, together with a loan from his sister, purchased a one and a half acre plot of land in La Habra Heights.
He found old, unproductive avocado trees growing on a portion of the property and these he cut back radically and grafted anew with fresh budwood. As for the remainder of the property, taking the advice of an experienced orchardist, he planted three avocado seeds in holes spaced 12 feet apart. When the three seedlings in each hole had grown to graftable size in about a year’s time, he would keep the strongest of the three and discard the other two.
According to plan, when the seedlings were properly sized, the strongest of each grouping was professionally grafted to the ‘Fuerte’ variety, which was the most popular variety at that time due to its ability to survive a mild frost. A short time later, it was learned upon inspection that three of these seedling grafts had failed and needed to be re-grafted. Of these re-grafts, two succeeded but a single seedling stubbornly refused to accept a ‘Fuerte’ graft the second time around.
Hass wanted to uproot the recalcitrant seedling since, even after it began to bear fruit precociously, after only four or five years of age, he was set on having nothing but young Fuerte trees as his new plantings. However, the same professional grafter who had succeeded with all the other seedlings persuaded Hass that the remaining ungrafted seedling was strong and should be left alone. Hass’ family and friends also advocated to keep the little tree since the taste of its fruit was different, but to their liking. Soon, Hass was selling this new fruit to his fellow postal workers at five for a dollar.
The fruit was dark purple to black in color and this had been a reason for concern when the new fruit was considered for commercial purposes. Would the wider public accept avocados that were anything but green? However, the advantage of the fruit’s color was that it could hide blemishes better than green-skinned fruit. In addition, the skin of the new fruit was leathery, which meant it would ship better than the thin-skinned green fruit. Plus, the taste was nuttier and more pronounced and the texture oilier and less watery than that of the standard green varieties.
Increasingly appreciative of the new fruit’s qualities, Hass patented it under his name in 1935.
Today, with millions of ‘Hass’ avocado trees planted throughout the world and with California’s annual ‘Hass’ avocado crop worth more than a billion dollars, you would think that Rudolph Hass must have gotten rich from his patent.
However, plant patents back then, and even now, proved difficult to enforce because of the ease of vegetative propagation or cloning. Anyone with a Rudolph Hass tree, for instance, could graft budwood from it onto homegrown seedlings and soon have a whole orchard bearing ‘Hass’ fruit. Rudolph Hass’ total profit from his patent was $4,800. He continued to work at the Pasadena post office until his death at age 60, the same year his patent expired.
I was reminded of avocado trees upon contemplating the following email from Christopher Mitchell of Altadena: “We had to cut down an 80-foot Monterey pine tree a couple of years ago due to bark beetle infestation. I would like to ask if you might have some recommendations concerning a shade tree. We were looking for something that might eventually grow 30 to 50 feet.”
When I think of a local shade tree for our area, I first think of an oak. Of course, most oaks grow taller than 50 feet and people are therefore reluctant to plant them. Our orientation toward trees in Southern California is skewed toward small to medium sized species because of smallish yards, but if you can somehow see your way clear to planting an oak, there is no tree more majestic or rewarding in the fullness of time.
I went through several lists of shade trees without being convinced of the suitability of any of the recommended selections. I probably know too much in this regard since, along with the positives, I always see the negatives, too, regarding any particular species. How could I recommended a tree unreservedly while knowing its drawbacks?
But after pondering Mr. Mitchell’s request for a few days, it suddenly hit me. He was writing from Altadena, after all, the cradle of California’s avocado industry, so why not plant an avocado tree? Nearly 20 years before Rudolph Hass decided against uprooting the tree that would bear his name, ‘Fuerte’ became the first standard bearer of the avocado industry when, in an Altadena nursery as a seedling tree, it survived a freeze while all surrounding seedlings died. It was therefore called ‘Fuerte,’ meaning strong.
There is no fruit tree more suitable to our area, as long as you are south of the Santa Clarita Valley, than the avocado.
In truth, you can grow avocado trees in containers anywhere as long as you bring them indoors — and there are dwarf trees that make this possible — when temperatures begin to dip below 40 degrees.
The avocado tree is generally pest free and, when mature, shades its roots so that it is reasonably drought tolerant.
To keep roots even cooler, a layer of mulch consisting of avocado leaves is beneficial. This same mulch has also been shown to reduce the likelihood that avocado root rot — a soil-borne fungus disease that is the majot avocado tree nemesis — will develop.
Last but not least, an avocado tree’s mature height is 30-50 feet, the same height as a Valencia orange tree, another fruit-bearing option that gives shade.
As for conventional ornamental shade trees that reach this height, I would recommend three: mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), of parasol form, wispy pinkish flowers, and decorous bipinnate foliage; ginkgo, with unique fan-shaped foliage that turns brilliant gold before dropping in the fall; and tipu (Tipuana tipu), a South American tree with orange-yellow flower this time of the year and pinnately compound leaves.
Note: Where ginkgo trees are concerned, make sure you plant a male since females produce malodorous fruit.