Monika Maeckle

By Monika Maeckle

The luscious fruits dripping from the well-protected Avocado Tree at the Spanish Governor’s Palace suggest absolute fertility, thus it’s no surprise that the word ‘avocado’ comes from the Aztec ahuacacuauhitl, which means ‘testicle tree.’

This Avocado Tree, tucked into the north side of the former presidio’s courtyard at 105 Military Plaza, boasts waxy leaves, quick growth and a dense shade.  But its ample fruit steals the show.

Avocado
Avocado means Testicle Tree in the Aztec language.

Attempts to harvest the hundreds of avocados adorning its branches this time of year are persistent and various.   Visitors have been caught standing on the bench in front of the tree, trying to reach the clusters of oval, green orbs.  They’ve thrown shoes at branches hoping to knock the fruit to the ground.  They’ve even climbed the trunk and thrashed the arbor with sticks.

“Squirrels get most of it,”  said Charlotte Boord, City of San Antonio Visitor Services Supervisor for the Spanish Governor’s Palace.  She added that squirrels wastefully take a few bites of an avocado, toss it to the ground, then sample another.

This particular Avocado Tree is a cultivar, meaning it was bred and cultivated for specific traits, likely its abundant fruit and hardiness.  City of San Antonio Forester Michael Nentwich believes this may be the last Avocado Tree of its type in San Antonio.  It’s mass is especially impressive given that the tree froze to the ground both in 1983 and 1989, springing back with the  vim of a studly teenager.

Under the shade of the Avocado Tree at the Spanish Governor's Palace
Under the shade of the Avocado Tree at the Spanish Governor’s Palace

Boord said she and others have tried to replicate the waxy leaves and ample harvest by planting seeds from fallen avocados–but to no avail.   “Every time I’ve done it, the freeze got it,” she said.  Nentwich told the same story.

Obviously this is one special tree, planted in the perfect , protected location.   Avocados are known for being sensitive to both freeze and extreme heat since the tree’s bark has little woody, brown matter and can burn in extreme sun.   This tree’s 31-foot canopy has seen a host of events, much history, and at least one marriage proposal at the nearby wishing well, said Boord. And, at 41 feet tall, the tree is unusual for an avocado, which generally only reach 30 feet. Avocado growers don’t allow their trees to gain such height.  If they did, the fruit would be too difficult to harvest.

The Avocado Tree at the Spanish Governor’s Palace

Species: Persea americana

Height:  41 feet

Canopy:  31 feet

Diameter at breast height:  13 inches

Circumference:  3 feet, 5 inches

Age:  40-50 years

Location:  Courtyard of the Spanish Governors’ Palace, 105 Military Plaza

Get there by bus:  Take Yellow Route to Plaza de Armas and East Commerce.

Also known as: Poncho Tree, Testicle Tree

NOTES:  Diameter at breast height, or DBH, is a standard of measuring tree diameter at four-and-a-half feet off the ground.  Regarding the age of trees, arborists and foresters are reluctant to cite them.   The only accurate way to determine a tree’s age is with an increment boring test, whereby a hollow drill bit is bored into the tree trunk.  Very traumatic for the tree.  Since soil and water availability determine tree growth, some trees grow huge in several decades while others live  a century and can be much smaller.  The tree’s temperament is also a factor.

In short, when it comes to determining tree ages, size doesn’t matter.    We will cite educated guesses by certified arborists for the ages of featured trees, unless scientific or historical data are available.

Have a favorite heritage tree?   Send us a photo, a story and we’ll consider it for inclusion to hello@rivardreport.com.

More on San Antonio’s trees:

San Antonio’s Initiative to Plant One Million Trees by 2020

Read our weekly series on Heritage Trees.

Monika Maeckle writes about gardening, butterflies, conservation and the Monarch butterfly migration at the Texas Butterfly Ranch.  She covers nature in the urban environment for this website.  You can reach her at monika@therivardreport.com or follow her on Twitter @monikam.

Monika Maeckle

San Antonio Report co-founder Monika Maeckle writes about pollinators, native plants, and the ecosystems that sustain them at the Texas Butterfly Ranch website. She is also the founder and director of...