Almond Tree Information
Almond trees (Prunus dulcis) are members of the rose (Rosaceae) family, along with plums, peaches and apples. The almond tree is very closely related to the peach tree. While almond trees are mostly cultivated for their edible nuts, their attractive shape and beautiful blossom makes them a good specimen tree in a Mediterranean-style garden. There are dozens of almond tree varieties in cultivation.
Almond trees are medium sized deciduous trees that rarely grow higher than 25 feet. The dark green leaves are between 3 and 5 inches long with finely serrated edges. The white or pale pink blossom is fragrant and appears in early spring before the leaves. The nuts, actually drupes, look like small, unripe peaches before splitting open to reveal the almond after eight months on the tree.
Native to Mediterranean climate areas of Pakistan, Syria and Turkey, almond trees are now grown in temperate climate areas all over the world. The wild form of the domesticated almond tree, which produces bitter almonds, grows across the Mediterranean.
Almonds trees have been in cultivation since at least 3000 B.C.; almonds have been found in ancient Greek tombs dating back to 8000 B.C. Almonds were also found in the tomb of Tutankhamen dating from 1325 B.C. The almond tree was introduced in the U.S. by Spanish padres of the Santa Barbara Mission in California. As of the early 2000s, California accounted for 42 percent of global almond production, with 500,000 acres of cultivated almond trees.
Prunus dulcis trees should be planted in the winter, while the flower buds are still dormant. This gives the tree the chance to develop its root system. Almond trees thrive in sunny conditions and grow best in deep, fertile, well-drained soil, although they will tolerate most soil types. In the U.S. almond trees are suitable for outdoor planting in USDA zones 7 and above. Frost or rain during the flowering season will seriously reduce the year’s almond crop.
Mature almonds are eaten raw or used as a cooking ingredient the world over. The unripe nuts can be eaten green and even pickled. Almond oil is an important base in the cosmetics industry and is also used as a lubricant for delicate machinery such as watch mechanisms. The wild form of domesticated almond trees produces bitter almonds which contain dangerous levels of cyanide if eaten raw. Cooked bitter almonds are traditionally used to flavor Italian confectionery.