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History of the Macadamia

Mt Warning, New South Wales – home of the macadamia nut
The macadamia is the only major commercial food crop that is native to Australia.The colonization of Australia by the British began in 1788 but it wasn’t until 1875 that the recorded history of the macadamia began. Ferdinand Von Muller, Royal Botanist at Melbourne and Walter Hill, Director of the Botany Garden at Brisbane, were botanizing in the forest along the Pine River in the Moreton Bay district of Queensland. They discovered a species of tree in the family Proteaceae previously unknown to European and American Botanists. This species did not fit into any previously established genera in that family, so in 1858 Muller established a new genus, Macadamia, naming it in honor of John Macadam, MD, Secretary of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria.Of course, the British weren’t the first inhabitants of Australia. At the time of their arrival Australia was inhabited by aborigines, with a population of around 300,000. Their food consisted mainly of fish, shellfish, turtle eggs, grubs of certain tree bark insects, kangaroo, koala, wombat, bandicoot, other small animals and birds, plus yams, and grass seeds.
However, during the months of fall and winter (March to June), they would come from far and near to congregate on the eastern slopes of the Great Divide Range. Here they would feast on the seeds of two kinds of trees which were abundant in the area. One kind of tree they called “Kindal Kindal”, which we now know as the macadamia.The macadamia genus consists of at least ten species, but only two of those produce edible nuts, the Integrifolia and the Tetraphylla.
The first large planting of Macadamias occurred in 1890 on the Frederickson Estate at Rous Mill, New South Wales. They planted around 250 trees as a source of nuts for the family. Many of those trees still exist and are still producing a good crop of nuts.Interestingly, the largest single planting of macadamia trees is on 3,700 acres in Komatipoort, South Africa. Additionally, macadamias are grown commercially in Hawaii, Australia, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, Israel, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, and many other tropical and subtropical regions, including Florida.Macadamias were first grown in NZ through ad-hoc import from Australia.In 1975 the beginnings of commercial plantings occurred south of Auckland through the efforts of Virginia Warren. This enterprise has flourished into a cottage industry with around 400 trees planted.Planting began at what is now MacNut Farms in 1980 under the management of Neil Whitehead, with the orchard starting to produce commercial quantities in 1989. Neil continued  as manager until 1997, supervising the development of NZ’s largest orchard at 10,500 trees spread over 105 acres.MacNut Farms is predominantly planted in a hybrid species called “Beaumont”, which is known for it’s superior tasting nut. In NZ, Beaumont’s must be handpicked, as they do not drop their nuts. Most Australian and Hawaiian species drop their nuts, allowing for a cheaper ground harvest.


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