The Avocado Seed

Riverdave’s Journal


I love to bring the energy of plants indoors. But most common household plants in our North Carolina temperate zone have exotic origins.  Through the years my limited budget for this interest of mine has forced me to improvise in various ways.  

For instance, I ask for clippings of philodendron vines when I admire the plant at a friend’s house.  It is uniquely satisfying to pot them and watch them trail about, even in corners of my house with very limited light.  

But my favorite way to bring living plants into my home is with avocado seeds.  I prefer to buy the large, smooth-skinned varieties from the Dominican Republic that are sold in Latino food stores in Durham. Due to their higher fat content, I find they have both better texture and richer flavor than the California or Florida varieties.  

I have tried to germinate avocado seeds using toothpicks to suspend them over a jar of water, as is usually recommended.  But I have not had much success with that technology.  After consuming the fleshy fruit, my preferred method is to drop the seed into my kitchen compost bucket which I later empty onto the compost pile in my backyard.  

One month later I discover bright green shoots poking their heads above the composting material.  When the baby avocado plant is about a foot tall, I transplant it to a small clay pot and bring it indoors to place on my kitchen window ledge for it to grow another foot.  

Finally I place the juvenile plant in a larger pot where it occupies a position in some corner of my home that needs the refreshment and inspiration of a tropical plant with large and alluring green leaves.  In the past I have tried placing them in the backyard to further their growth, but inevitably insect predators discover the sumptuous leaves and all my careful love and nurturing is rapidly chewed away.

Although four feet tall is about the maximum size I can get out of these home raised pets, their broad leaves and pleasant spirit are cheery enough for me.  With such a wide surface area, I trust these leaves are doing their best to recycle and cleanse the living space of my home, especially in the winter.  The leaves can also be made into a medicinal tea that cleanses the kidneys. 

Avocados have a long juvenile period before fruiting.  If one’s goal is to produce fruit, they are best propagated by grafting.  The creation of foliage is my primary goal in raising these plants.  But through the years I have become quite fond of the whole process - from selecting the fruit at the Latino market, admiring it on my kitchen table, eating its mellow green flesh, making medicinal tea from the leaves, working with my compost pile and finally bringing the babes indoors to share my living space.

I also know the avocado on a deeper level.  In 1992 I led a group of ecotourists to Costa Rica.  The group included Durham’s esteemed elder and river activist Margaret Nygard.  Our mission was to find what was acclaimed to be the world’s most magnificent bird, the resplendent quetzal!

We searched and sloshed for several days in the cloud forests of Monte Verde. We finally spotted that almost mythical bird emerge from the depths of the misty forest and alight upon a limb only fifty feet away. It promptly plucked and swallowed a fruit from the tree.  Our guide was ecstatic and announced that we were in for a special treat - beholding the planet’s most beautiful bird digest a wild avocado!

It was a slow process.  Although wild avocado fruits are generally smaller than those that come from commercially bred trees, it was still quite a gizzard-full for “our” bird.  The guide whispered that the quetzal would stay perfectly still while it concentrated on digesting the fleshy fruit. Then it would regurgitate the seed. 

Sure enough, after thirty minutes of glassing that denizen of the cloud forest with binoculars, we were rewarded when the bird vomited up the seed and sent it plunging to the ground. Having completed its meal, the quetzal promptly flew away.  Margaret sent me scampering off to fetch for her that magical seed.  But as I groped about in the dense, mossy understory, I realized it was an improbable task to which I had been commissioned.  

I trust that avocado seed germinated on that dank, composting forest floor in Central America.  I like to think that on that spot there stands today a lofty green memorial to Margaret, our now deceased river champion. The same organic cycle of life continues in my own backyard’s compost pile, two thousand miles away in Durham ...

Photo #1 by Riverdave: young avocado plants on Riverdave's kitchen window sill in winter

Photo #2 by Riverdave: avocado leaf tea turns a surprising color!

Photo #3 by Riverdave: juvenile avocado plants on Riverdave's back porch in spring with leaves ready for making medicinal tea