History

 

The modern pistachio nut was first selected from wild Pistacia vera trees native to central Asia. The initial selection and improvement was first undertaken in the era of the Persian Empire which spanned from Eastern Mediterranean to central Asia. Ever since, pistachios have been an important crop in cooler parts of Iranian plateau.

 

Pistachio cultivation spread into the Mediterranean world where it has continuously prospered in Syria, Turkey, Greece and Sicily. Pistachios were already well known in Late Antiquity. Since 1970s, pistachios have become a commercial crop in many countries which fall around the 30th parallel north and south of the equator. These regions include: California, North Africa, New South Wales in Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Chile.

 

Botany

 

The pistachio of commerce is the only edible species among the 11 species in the genus Pistacia; all are characterized by their ability to exude turpentine or mastic. Several are referred to as pistachios, but the name is generally reserved for the edible nut of commerce. Its Latin name is Pistacia vera L. A member of the family Anacardiaceae, it is related to the cashew, mango, poison ivy and oak, pepper tree and sumac.

 

The Pistachio is a relatively small tree mostly grown in the arid parts of the world close to 30th parallel latitude. It grows from sea level (e.g. Attica, Greece) to an altitude of 1800 meter above sea level (e.g. Kerman, Iran). The combination of latitude and altitude should provide enough chilling hours in winter and long hot and sunny summer conditions to produce a viable crop.

 

Pistachios bear laterally on one-year-old wood. This causes an alternate bearing habit, very  prominent in pistachio production with extensive commercial consequences.

 

Pistachio tree is deciduous, i.e. it loses its leaves in the fall and remains dormant through the winter. The tree is dioecious (i.e. two houses), meaning the male flowers are borne on one tree and the female flowers on another. Therefore, both male and female trees are needed for nut production. The pollen is spread by wind.

 

The trees have extensive root systems allowing them to mine the soil deeply. Thus, pistachios are adapted to survive long periods of drought. They need a well-drained soil. In such soils, the tree can tolerate relatively high levels of salinity in soil and/or irrigation water.

 

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