In 1926, Rudolph Hass, a local postman in La Habra Heights, California, obtained three avocado seeds from A.R. Rideout, a maverick and pioneer propagator in Southern California. Rideout collected seeds from anywhere he could, even from restaurant food scraps extracted from the tossed-out garbage. He planted those seeds somewhat randomly along streets and in neighbors’ yards, in constant search for new varieties.
Hass’s intention was to grow the seeds out into trees, graft them with the then-popular Fuerte Avocado, and to eventually have an orchard. Rideout helpfully instructed Hass to plant three seeds in a cluster wherever he wanted a tree, then pull out the two weakest seedlings and graft the strongest ones. All but three “took” and so the next year, those were re-grafted. The following year after that, the one remaining failure was grafted again. The grafting attempt still didn’t “take” and Hass was ready to give up. However, that one surviving tree, almost pulled because of its poor appearance, was left to grow anyway to “see what happens.” Partly because the professional grafter Hass had hired, Mr. Caulkins, said it was a strong tree despite appearances, but also because his children had fallen in love with the unique taste of this “new” avocado, Hass was finally convinced to keep that last tree, and voilà—it produced the Hass Avocado!
Upon discovering that this new variety had an excellent taste and provided a good yield, Hass named it after himself and was granted a patent for it in 1935. This was the first plant patent ever granted for a tree, and every Hass Avocado today is descended from that original tree. However, the exact derivation of the original seed will never be known because of the planting and grafting method Hass used: that of only keeping and grafting the stongest of three in a given cluster of unknown origin.
Hass partnered with Harold Brokaw, a Whittier nurseryman, to grow and sell the seedlings from propagated cuttings. With larger yields year-round, bigger and more plentiful fruit, longer shelf life, and richer flavor due to its high oil content, the Hass Avocado became a sensation. Hass never made much money in royalties—less than $5,000 total. He carried on as a postman and died in 1952, the same year the patent expired. The Hass Mother Tree lived on, but finally died in 2002 at the ripe old age of 76.
Today, 80% of all avocados consumed worldwide are Hass, and California now produces 90% of U.S. avocados. Guacamole anyone?