The Hass Avocado - A California Native
In 2002, the tree to which every Hass Avocado in the world can trace its lineage finally succumbed to root rot at the ripe old age of 76. Her offspring account for 95 percent of the avocados grown in California, and the fruit of her labor resulted in one of the state's most important industries. Yet, despite speculation to the contrary, nobody knows what variety of seed produced the original Hass Mother Tree.
The tree began life as lucky-find; a simple seed planted by A.R. Rideout of Whittier. Rideout, an innovator and pioneer in avocados, was always searching for new varieties and tended to plant whatever seeds he could find, often along streets or in neighbors' yards.
In the late 1920s, Mr. Rudolph Hass, a postman, purchased a seed from Rideout, and planted it in his new orchard. He planned to graft another variety on it, but when repeated grafts didn't take he planned to cut the tree down. Fortunately for avocado lovers everywhere, Hass's children talked him out of it. They preferred the taste of the tree's fruit to that of the Fuerte, the predominant variety and industry standard in those days.
Since the quality was high and the tree gave a good yield, Hass named the variety after himself and took out a patent in 1935. That same year, he signed an agreement with Harold Brokaw, a Whittier nurseryman, to grow and promote the Hass Avocados. They would split the gross income: 25 percent for Hass and 75 percent for Brokaw.
Brokaw began to propagate the rough, black Hass exclusively and promote it in favor of the standard varieties of the day. It made sense. The Hass was a far better bearer than the Fuerte and it matured at a different time of year. Because of the seasonal advantage, Brokaw was successful to the point of yearly sellouts of his nursery crops.
The patent expired in 1952, the same year Rudolph Hass died. But by then, the bumpy black avocado that bore his name was rapidly gaining in popularity on the smooth green Fuerte. Consumers preferred its richer, nuttier taste, while grocers favored it for its durability and longer shelf life. Today, the Hass accounts for about 80 percent of all avocados eaten worldwide and generates more than $1 billion a year in revenues in the United States alone.
The tree that launched an avocado revolution lived out her days in suburban La Habra Heights. Harold Brokaw's nephew Hank nursed her through more than a decade, trying to save her from root fungus. Hank lost the fight in 2002, and the tree's wood is currently in storage in a Ventura nursery awaiting the decision on a fitting commemoration of the original Hass Mother Tree.