THE ALMOND.
(Amygdalus communis L.)


And it came to pass that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and blossomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.
Numbers 17: 8.

The almond is the fruit of a small tree (Amygdalus communis) belonging to the Rose family (Rosaceae). The plant is believed to be a native of northern Africa, Persia and Turkestan. It occurs wild in Sicily and Greece and is cultivated throughout temperate Europe, including England.

The leaves of the almond tree are simple, broadly lanceolate, margins serrate, bright green and stalked. The flowers are nearly sessile, mostly solitary, petals bright pink; otherwise similar to the flowers of the rose family as seen in the apple blossom, cherry blossom and the wild rose. The fruit is a drupe or stone fruit, resembling the peach in its general structural characters. It is, however, much smaller, measuring about one and one-half inch in length. As in the peach the outer portion of the fruit coat (sarcocarp) is fleshy, the inner portion (endocarp or putamen) is hard and encloses the kernel or seed to which the term almond is usually applied. The plant is very ornamental, producing its beautiful flowers in March before the leaves are developed.

Two natural varieties of almonds are quite universally recognized, the sweet (A. communis var dulcis) and the bitter (A. communis var amara). They resemble each other so closely in general appearance that it is practically impossible to distinguish between them. The principal difference lies in the chemistry of the kernels or seeds themselves. In the bitter variety amygdalin is found, which is practically wanting in the sweet variety. Some botanists describe quite a number of varieties. Karsten, for instance, describes five varieties of A. communis, namely, dulcis, amara, fragilis, macrocarpa, and persicoides. Boissier in, his Flora Orientalis describes as many as seventeen distinct species.

The almond tree is one of the oldest of the cultivated plants. It was a great garden favorite in and about Palestine.

 

It is frequently mentioned in the books of Moses. In Exodus 25: 34, we find that the "candlestick shall have four bowls made like unto almonds." As explained in the 8th verse of chapter 17 of Numbers the blossoming rod of Aaron was from an almond tree. Even to this day Jews carry rods bearing almond blossoms to the synagogues on great festival days. The Romans designated the almonds (the kernels or seeds with the hard endocarp or shell) Nuces graecae (Greek nuts), from which it is concluded that the almond tree was brought to Italy from Greece. Almond oil was known to the ancient Greek and Roman writers. Plinius and Dioscorides make reference to the gum which exudes from the bark. Karl der Grosse (Charlemagne) recommended the cultivation of almonds in Germany. In view of the fact that some authorities state that the sweet variety is a product of cultivation, it is interesting to note that the two varieties have been known equally long. The bitter variety was described by Scribonius Largus and Plinius. Alexander Trallianus described the medicinal virtues of the oil of bitter almonds. Palladinus gave directions how to convert the bitter variety into the sweet variety by methods of cultivation.

Later experiments have, however, proven this to be a false conclusion.

The fruit and seeds of several other plants are known as almonds. The seeds of the African shrub Brabeium stellatifolium are known as, African almonds. Country almonds is a name given to the fruit of the East Indian tree Terminalia Catappa. The fruit of Canarium commune is known as Java almonds.

At the present time the sweet almond is extensively cultivated in northern Africa, southern Europe and in the warmer parts of the United States, particularly in California. Climatic conditions and cultivation have a great influence upon the quality of the almonds and we have as a result quite a number of commercial varieties, just as we have commercial varieties of coffee, tea, oranges, etc.

     
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