A fuzzy almond drupe. Later the pod will split to reveal the nut within.

Almonds (Prunus dulcis) are a deciduous fruit tree within the rose (Rosaceae) family, along with other tree fruits such as peaches, apples, pears, plums, cherries, and apricots. Within the genus, almonds are most closely related to the peach, and hybrids of the two are used as rootstocks. Almonds are native to the Mediterranean region of the Middle East, explaining their requirement of mild winters and long dry summers. Domesticated by at least 3000 BC, the almond was brought to California in the 1700s by Spanish padres who settled the mission at Santa Barbara and plants were cultivated commercially in California by the turn of the century. Today, California is the world leader in almond production, garnering 42% of the world market. Additionally, California is the only state in the union producing almonds commercially, with over 500,000 acres in production (99% of almond production in the U.S.), the most widely planted tree crop in the state. Locally, the Capay Valley heralds the arrival of spring with its annual Almond Festival. 

The almond tree is a small to medium sized tree with a spreading, open canopy, about 10-15 feet across. Leaves are three- to four-times longer than they are wide, with finely serrated margins. Almond flowers are nearly identical to peach and other Prunus flowers, but are more fragrant and tend to be either light pink or white. Almonds are self-infertile and must be cross-pollinated; because of this, honeybees or other pollinators are essential to fruit production.

Almond trees should be planted early in the year, when low temperatures prevent leaf buds from growing — this gives the roots time to regenerate before budding. Almonds do best in deep, well-drained soil that is reasonably fertile. Like so many tree crops, rainfall damages fruit production once trees begin to bloom; during bloom, blossoms are knocked off, bee activity declines and blossoms are not pollinated, and rain during fruit development causes fungal and bacterial diseases. Frost can be equally damaging, with both the blossoms and young fruits susceptible to frost damage. The soft, fuzzy almond fruit is called a drupe. Prior to "ripening", the hull dries and splits, revealing the nut, within which lies the kernel that we love to eat. Almond trees require at least three years to produce, with maximum nut production in six- to ten-years — almond trees can produce for more than fifty years. Once harvested, nuts (still in their shells) can be stored for months, and the hulls are often sold for livestock feed.

Almonds have been used as folk remedy for cancers, tumors, ulcers, corns, and calluses, and were even thought to prevent intoxication from drinking too much alcohol. The bitter almond is a cousin to the sweet almond and, like other members of Prunus, contains traces of lethal prussic acid in its raw state. Although the toxicity is destroyed by heat, fifty unprocessed bitter almonds can be lethal to an adult and as few as seven can kill a child. Bitter almonds are successfully processed to make almond extract, essential oil and almond-flavored liqueurs. Almond oil is highly valued for use in cosmetics and creams, and bitter almond oil is used as an essential oil. The oil is used to treat various forms of dermatitis.

In Greek mythology the almond tree is represented by the beautiful princess Phyllis. Left at the altar on her wedding day, Phyllis waited for years before finally perishing of a broken heart. In sympathy, the gods transformed her into an almond tree, as a symbol of hope. When Phyllis' fiancee returned to find her as a leafless, flowerless tree, he embraced it and the tree burst into bloom.

The Davisville Almond Growers Association, founded in 1897, was a revolutionary cooperative effort that served as a model for the development of agriculture nationwide. Individual farm profits were increased through quality control and community cooperation that maximized harvest yield. This reputation as a leader in the improvement of the agriculture industry made Davisville an attractive location for the University State Farm.

For a listing of other edible and ornamental plants found in Davis, visit our Town Flora.