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The almond tree, Prunus amygdalus--known alternatively as Prunus dulcis--produces the oldest and most widely grown of all of the world's NUT crops. The tree is indigenous to western Asia and North Africa. Today it is grown in most temperate regions. A member of the rose family and similar in appearance to the peach tree, the almond tree reaches a height of 3-7 m (9-22 ft) and has pink or white flowers that bloom in early spring. The dry, leathery almond fruit surrounds a seed or kernel--the almond nut--which is harvested when the fruit dries and splits open. Of the two major types of almonds grown, the sweet almond, P. amygdalus dulcis, is cultivated for its edible nut.

The bitter almond, P. amygdalus amara, is inedible but contains an oil--also present in the sweet almond and in the ripe kernels of the apricot and peach--which, when combined with water, yields hydrocyanic (prussic) acid and benzldehyde, the ESSENTIAL OIL of bitter almonds. The oil is used in making flavoring extracts and in some sedative medicines. Almond trees require more than one variety for pollination. Trees are propagated primarily by budding, with bitter almond, almond, or peach seedlings used as rootstocks. Harvests begin the fourth year after planting, and full production is reached by the seventh. In California, the largest American almond-producing state, some 100 varieties are grown.

Grollier's Multimedia Encyclopedia

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