Also called alligator pear, the fruit of the avocado tree (Persea americana) yields a oil-rich flesh surrounding a ping pong ball-size seed in its core. The variety Zutano produces green-skinned fruits but more importantly acts as a pollinator for the more delicious Hass tree variety. Grow them in lots of sunshine and a moist, well-draining soil rich in organic matter. An avocado tree provides an ornamental presence in a garden.
The avocado grows naturally in tropical America from Mexico to Peru, but since it's been cultivated for so many years, the precise native range remains obscure. The authors of "Economic Botany: Plants in our World" mention that the avocado perhaps was domesticated three times in history, leading to the modern genetic races of trees: Mexican, West Indian and Guatemalan. The Zutano variety derived from the Mexican strain and was developed in California.
The Zutano avocado grows with an upright, rounded shape with spreading branches to a mature height of 30 to 40 feet. Usually evergreen unless stricken with extreme drought or sub-freezing temperatures, its oval dark green leaves display a glossy sheen. The tiny flowers bear a greenish white color and occur in clusters at tree branch tips in early to late spring. The pear-shaped fruits mature to about six inches in length, taking about six months, and are harvested from mid-autumn to late winter. The thin, tender smooth green skin bears a few waxy bumps and is quite difficult to peel. The flesh is light yellow to greener toward the skin, firm and of average quality.
From a climate and gardening viewpoint, Zutano tolerates light bouts with winter frosts but must not be grown where temperatures dip below 24 degrees F. Use it in USDA winter hardiness zones 9b and warmer and in Sunset climate zones 9 and 16 through 24.
Flowers of all avocado species are classified as being either "A" or "B." They are distinguished by the time of day the flowers open and male and female reproductive organs become receptive. Zutano is a "B" type. Its new flowers open in the afternoon and only the female flower organs receive the pollen and get fertilized from other trees this first day. This prevents the tree from self-pollinating. These flowers close at dusk and reopen the morning of the second day. This time the flowers shed their pollen to fertilize the female organs on other, type "A" varieties.
Zutano acts as a central variety in California's commercial avocado orchards, primarily as a pollinator for the Hass variety. While the Zutano's fruit flavor and ease of peeling is less desirable than other avocados, its glossy foliage makes it among the most attractive for casual use as an ornamental shade tree in subtropical landscapes.