A deciduous tree 20 to 30 ft high, erect branching when young, of bushy habit when old; branchlets quite glabrous. Leaves glabrous, lanceolate, 3 to 5 in. long, 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. wide; long-pointed, margins finely toothed; stalk glandular, up to 1 in. long. Flowers 1 to 2 in. across, borne in March and April, singly or in pairs from the buds of the previous summer’s twigs, each on a short stalk scarcely longer than the bud-scales. Calyx bell-shaped at the base, the five lobes 1⁄6 in. long, oblong, rounded, downy towards the edges; petals rosy or nearly white. Fruit 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. long, not quite so much wide, covered with a velvety down; flesh rather dry, enclosing a smooth nut with a pitted shell.
The common almond of gardens described above, which is grown for its flowers rather than for its fruits, is one of many cultivated varieties that have arisen since the dawn of civilisation from the wild ancestral stock, usually considered to be native in S.W. Asia, the Balkans, and perhaps N. Africa. It was cultivated in Britain early in the 16th century, perhaps long before. Of the earliest blossoming trees it is the most beautiful, flowering in early spring when almost all other deciduous trees and shrubs are merely showing signs of reawakening growth, and providing then a delightful feast of softest colouring, which gives, perhaps, a deeper pleasure than any of the great genus Prunus. To see the almond at its best it should be given some sunny bay with evergreens like holly or holm oak as a background. With no other backing than the cold March sky, almond flowers lose half their charm. In Britain it is propagated chiefly by budding on the plum stock, and thrives very well. Seeds or seedlings can be obtained at very cheap rates from continental nurseries, but on its own roots it is said to be less hardy and more fastidious as to soil than it is when worked on the plum. The soil need not be particularly rich, but it should be warm and well drained. Although the almond occasionally produces good eatable nuts in England, it is never likely to be valued in gardens on that account. It is for its beauty of flower alone that it is cultivated. We can therefore ignore the numerous varieties that are grown in the south of Europe for their nuts.
For nomenclatural reasons, the name P. amygdalus has to give way to P. dulcis (Mill.) D. A. Webb, a combination first published in 1967. The earliest name for the almond was Amygdalus communis, given by Linnaeus in 1753. When Batsch transferred it to Prunus in 1801, he could not make the combination P. communis (L.), since that name had already been used by Hudson in 1762 for the plum, P. domestica. Batsch therefore published the name P. amygdalus, but under modern rules he ought to have used the earliest epithet available and there were in fact two to choose from, both published by Philip Miller in his Dictionary (1768). Miller restricted the name Amygdalus communis L. to the common almond, which ‘is cultivated more for the beauty of its flowers, than for its fruit’, and gave specific rank to two forms of sweet almond – A. dulcis, the common sweet almond or Jordan almond, and A. sativus, an early-flowering, small-kernelled sort. This was overlooked or ignored until 1967, when Professor Webb rectified the matter by making the combination P. dulcis (Mill.) D. A. Webb. This is the name used in Flora Europaea, Vol. 2 (1968), p. 78.
The sweet almond, i.e., P. dulcis in the narrow sense, is not cultivated in Britain, at least not frequently. But the common or ornamental almond of gardens is, in its fruits, nearer to the sweet than to the bitter almonds (see var. amara). Its kernels are perfectly edible and have a negligible content of prussic acid, the lethal intake for an adult being about 900 kernels, eaten at one sitting. But it is recommended that children should not be allowed to eat more than twenty to fifty at a time, according to age (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 68 (1943), p. 65).
cv. ‘Alba’. – Flowers white.
var. amara (DC.) Amygdalus communis var. amara DC.; P. amygdalus var. amara (DC.) Focke Bitter Almond. – Flowers larger than ordinary, darkest in the centre, almost white towards the tips of the petals. Leaves broadest about the middle. The kernels, in ground form, or an essence or oil extracted from them, are used in confectionery, for macaroons, marzipan, etc.
cv. ‘Macrocarpa’. – The name Amygdalus communis var. macrocarpa was given by Seringe to two varieties of sweet almond cultivated in France, the ‘Amandier Sultane’ and the ‘Amandier Pistache’, both with large fruits about 3 in. in length and flowers up to 2 in. across. The habit is rather more fastigiate than in the common almond. Award of Merit 1931.
cv. ‘Pendula’. – branches pendulous.
cv. ‘Praecox’. – Flowers produced a fortnight earlier than in the type, frequently in February. In previous editions it was stated that this variety was also grown as var. persicoides, properly a synonym of P. × amygdalo-persica. But ‘Praecox’ has a sweet kernel, whereas in the almond-peach it is bitter. F.C.C. 1925.
cv. ‘Roseoplena’. – flowers pink, double.
P. webbii (Spach) Vierh. Amygdalus webbii Spach – A relative of the common almond found wild from Sicily through the S. Balkans to S. Asia Minor and in Crete. It is a much-branched spiny shrub or small tree with narrow-oblong leaves 11⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. long and 1⁄4 to 3⁄8 in. wide. Flowers white, about 3⁄4 in. across. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 118. It is quite hardy and has set fruit at The Grange, Benenden, Kent.
P. fenzliana Fritsch Amygdalus fenzliana (Fritsch) Lipsky – A relative of the common almond found in the Caucasus. It is a small bushy shrub with a dark purplish-red bark and greyish green rather glossy leaves, which are elliptic-lanceolate, 21⁄4 to 31⁄4 in. long, 5⁄8 to 3⁄4 in. wide. Flowers rose-coloured; calyx-tube bell-shaped. Fruits globose.