ROSE-RELATED FRUITS - Cherries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, plums and nectarines

Cherry

Prunus avium (L.) L. (Rosaceae).

Given its scientific name, meaning bird cherry, by Carolus Linnaeus in 1755; Linnaeus originally described the sweet cherry as a variety of the sour cherry, Prunus cerasus L.

Native to Europe and North Africa.

Life form: long-lived tree.

Parts used: edible fruit.

Ploidy level: diploid.

Raspberry

Rubus idaeus L. (Rosaceae).

Given its scientific name by Carolus Linnaeus in 1753, the raspberry had many variations that he recognized.

Life form: perennial woody vine.

Parts used: edible fruit.

Ploidy level: diploid, many apomictic clonal forms.

Wild relatives

Many cultivated temperate fruits come from the family Rosaceae. The two main genera responsible for most fruits are Prunus and Rubus, but important genera such as Fragaria are also cultivated. Apples (Malus) and pears (Pyrus) are dealt with separately, as they are key economic fruits.

Prunus

The genus Prunus is large and complex, with about 200 species and several subgenera including Amygdalus (peach, almond), Cerasus (cherry), Laurocerasus (cherry laurel), Padus (bird cherry), Armeniaca (apricots) and Prunus (plum, apricot). Some authors split Prunus into separate genera, according to the morphology of their fruit - in this case the generic names are Persica (peach), Cerasus (cherry), Armeniaca (apricot) and Amygdalus (almond). Today, however, most botanists prefer to recognise a single, highly variable, genus.

  • Prunus domestica L. (European plum) probably originated in the area around the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. There is evidence that the sole progenitor of the European plum is the cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera Ehrh., a native of Russia, Central Asia, Persia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. The damson is sometimes distinguished as a separate species, Prunus insititia L.
  • Prunus spinosa L. (sloe) is the only wild Prunus species found in temperate Europe. It is distributed throughout Europe, the Near East and North Africa, and was once believed to be an ancestor of the European plum.
  • Prunus avium (L.) L. (sweet cherry) is one of three cherry species that produce the modern cultivars. Ancestral wild forms of the sweet cherry are found in temperate central Asia, Europe and North Africa. Prunus cerasus L. (sour cherry) is of hybrid origin between Prunus avium and Prunus fruticosa.
  • Prunus fruticosa Pall. (European dwarf or ground cherry) is a low, spreading bush found wild and cultivated as a true species; it hybridises readily with Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus. It is distributed in south Russia, Kazakhstan and Eastern and Central Europe.
  • Prunus persica (L.) Batsch (peach) originated in China, probably from wild species P. davidiana (Carrière) Franch., Prunus mira Koehne and Prunus ferganensis Kost. & Rieb. Wild species distributions are primarily in the mountainous regions of Tibet and west China, within the primary centre of peach diversity. Nectarines, or smooth-skinned peaches, have been called var. nectarina Maxim.
  • Prunus armeniaca L. (apricot) originated in China and Japan. Its scientific name reflects the fact that early botanists thought it came from Armenia. It is more closely related to plums than to peaches.
  • Prunus dulcis (Mill.) D.A. Webb (almond) is a hybrid of wild and weedy forms of Prunus, among them Prunus bucharica (Korsch.) Hand-Mazz., and is native to Central Asia. The almond is closely related to the peach.
Rubus

The genus Rubus is a largely temperate genus (with a few high-altitude tropical species). Over 400 species are distributed throughout the northern hemisphere, 300 of which are described solely in Europe. The genus Rubus is notorious for hybridisation, apomixis and for being incredibly difficult taxonomically. Species level taxonomy and the recognition of wild species are almost impossible. The most commercially significant species in this genus is Rubus idaeus, the European raspberry.

Three wild species of raspberry were all instrumental in the development of modern cultivated raspberries in Europe and North America:

  • Rubus idaeus L. (raspberry) is native to Europe, Russia and central Asia, where wild populations are still found.
  • Rubus occidentalis L. (American black raspberry) is found growing wild in central and eastern parts of North America. Rubus strigosus Michx. (American red raspberry) is native to southern Canada and north-central and north-eastern USA.
  • Rubus loganobaccus L.H. Bailey (loganberry) originated in Santa Cruz, California in 1881. It is believed to be a hybrid of Rubus ursinus Cham. & Schltdl. (Pacific coast wild blackberry) and Rubus strigosus Michx.
  • Rubus fruticosus L. (blackberry) is a common copse and hedgerow plant in the UK and Western Europe, but cultivated widely in USA and New Zealand.
Fragaria

Strawberries belong to the genus Fragaria. There are several wild species native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, one of the most widespread being the wood strawberry, Fragaria vesca L., which occurs in Europe, Asia and North America. Two strawberries found in Europe are the Polunitza strawberry, Fragaria viridis Duchesne, and the musk strawberry, Fragaria moschata Duchesne. The modern cultivated strawberry, Fragaria ananassa Duchesne, is a hybrid between two American species, Fragaria virginiana Duchesne and Fragaria chiloensis Duchesne.

Origins of cultivation

Prunus
Cherry

Wild cherry stones have been found from the Mesolithic onwards and are common in Swiss lake dwellings. From Russia to Western Europe and North Africa cherry cultivation is not known before about 500 BC. Cherries are believed to have come from western Asia and Eastern Europe, from the Caspian Sea to the Balkans, where four out of five of the centres of cherry diversity are found. Cultivation of cherries was first recorded in Greece in 300 BC.

Peach

Peaches were first cultivated in China, from about 2000 BC, and spread west to Greece by 300 BC. Apricots were also first cultivated in China and Japan.

Plum

Plums were originally domesticated in western Asia, around the Caucasus Mountains, from the first millennium BC. Grafting has been important in the evolution of cultivars of the European plum; the Romans were the first to record plum planting and grafting activities.

Prehistoric plum stones are common but many are small; three different sizes have been found at Late Neolithic Sipplingen (Lake Constance in Switzerland), the largest of which suggests cultivation. On other Neolithic sites tiny plum stones have been found suggesting that they are stones of the cherry plum. It is thought that the Danubians brought the cherry plum to Europe, where it hybridised with the sloe and became the plum. Ancient writings suggest that the damson may have come from the region round Damascus.

Rubus
Raspberry

The raspberry, Rubus idaeus, was first cultivated in European monasteries in the 10th century. John Parkinson, the appointed Apothecary of James I, mentioned red, white and thornless varieties in his 1629 book, Paradisus. The raspberry is thought to be cultured in other gardens from that time. No bred or selected cultivars proper were known before the 1700s.

Numerous archaeological remains of Rubus pips, including Rubus idaeus and Rubus fruticosus, have been unearthed from sites dating back to 2000 BC. Although the fruits were probably not cultivated at this point, they were certainly picked from the wild.

Fragaria
Strawberry

The cultivated large strawberry, Fragaria ananassa, originated in mid-18th century Europe from a spontaneous hybridisation that occurred accidentally during the separate cultivation of the scarlet strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, and the Chilean strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis, in north-west France. As the cultivated strawberry is an octoploid, there is much scope for genetic manipulation. It is because of this variability that during the 19th century most countries developed their own varieties, suitable for the differing climates, day length, altitude, etc. of local regions. By 1300 wild strawberries were being cultivated in Britain.

Early uses

All these fruits would have been eaten fresh as fruit and used for medicinal purposes. For example, traditionally berries were taken for indigestion and rheumatism.

Prunus
Plum

Historically, the first mention of plums in writing was in 479 BC by Confucius. Pompey the Great introduced the plum to Rome, and Alexander the Great later brought them to the Mediterranean region.

Cherry

The sweet cherry was referred to by Dioscorides, the 1st century AD physician, as an aid to relieve wind. John Gerard, a 16th century herbalist, recorded the French custom of hanging cherries in the house to ward off fever. Herbalists in Europe have used cherry stems for diuretic and astringent purposes, and it has been prescribed for cystitis, nephritis and urinary retention, and arthritic problems, notably gout.

Nectarine

Nectarines are believed to have originated in China over 2,000 years ago. They were later cultivated in ancient Persia, Greece and Rome, and introduced to America by the Spanish. The name nectarine means they are as 'sweet as nectar'.

Apricot

India and China have been aware of the benefits of the apricot for 2000 years and the fruit, seeds and bark have been used. The fruit is nutritious, cleansing and mildly laxative. A concoction of stringent bark soothes inflamed and irritated skin conditions. Although seeds contain highly toxic prussic acid, they are prescribed in small amounts in Chinese traditional medicine for coughs, asthma and wheezing and for excessive mucous production and constipation.

Rubus
Raspberry

Raspberries were a favourite Victorian household remedy - they were used as raspberry vinegar for sore throats and coughs; the leaves were infused as a treatment for diarrhoea or as poultices for haemorrhoids; and raspberry syrup was used to prevent the build-up of tartar on teeth. Raspberries contain vitamins A, B, C and E, sugars, minerals and volatile oil. The leaves can be used for rheumatic conditions as a cleansing diuretic and in France they are regarded as a tonic for the prostate gland.

Fragaria
Strawberry

The earliest mention of 'stroeberie' is in a 10th century Saxon plant list and there is a recipe for a strawberry face wash included in A Good Housewife's Handmaid in 1585. In about 1629 the 'Strawberry Ripe' cry was being heard in London streets. Linnaeus declared that strawberries cured gout. Early North Amerindians used pounded strawberries in bread and the early European settlers made strawberry wine and used it as an aid to help stomach problems.

Transfer and spread

Prunus
Plum

It is not known when European plums were introduced into North America but it seems likely that they were taken there by the first colonists, especially to the Eastern Seaboard.

Cherry

Cherries spread from western Asia and Eastern Europe throughout Europe before agricultural history began.

Peach

Peaches originated in China and spread westwards through Asia and on to the Mediterranean countries and later to other parts of Europe. The Spanish took the peach to the New World and as early as 1600 it was found in Mexico. Commercial production on a large scale did not begin until the 19th century in the USA. Prunus persica var. nectarina (nectarine) is now grown throughout the warmer temperate regions of both northern and southern hemispheres.

Apricot

Apricots were originally from China, but the apricot is now cultivated in Central and South-East Asia and in parts of southern Europe as well as North and South Africa. The peach arrived in Roman Italy about 200 BC, and was taken to California by Spanish missionaries in the early 18th century. By 1879 the American Pomological Society listed 11 varieties growing in the USA. Apricots hybridise with plums to form 'plumcot'.

Rubus
Blackberry

Blackberries are abundant in eastern and North America and on the Pacific Coast, UK and Western Europe. Rubus loganobaccus (loganberry) originated in Santa Cruz, California in 1881 and is now grown in the USA, England and Tasmania.

Raspberry

Rubus idaeus spread from East Asia to Europe and the New World. It is now grown particularly in Scotland, middle England and in Kent and parts of USA.

Agriculture

Prunus
Plum

Different varieties of plums are adapted to different climates. Trees require well-managed soils, but no pruning after they first bear fruit.

Cherry

Most cherry species are native to the northern hemisphere but are now grown globally, wherever winter and summer temperatures are not extreme. The greatest concentration of cherry tree species is found in eastern Asia, with a further 10-12 species in North America and a similar number in Europe. They require winter cold to blossom in spring. The trees blossom early, just after peaches but earlier than apples.

Peach

Peaches are propagated by budding. This practice of budding superior yielding strains onto hardy rootstocks came about in the late 1800s, and led to the development of large commercial orchards. Today, peach trees grow throughout the warmer temperate regions of both the northern and southern hemispheres where temperatures remain above -10ºC. They cannot successfully grow where there is no real winter, as the cold induces growth after their annual dormant period.

Peach trees grow well on various soil types, especially well drained sandy or gravelly loam. They thrive on nitrogenous fertilisers or manure. Trees are pruned annually to prevent them from growing too tall. Peaches can be grown as trees or espaliered against walls, cordons or diagonally along a pole. Most trees produce more peaches than they can maintain and, while some shedding of fruit takes place naturally, weak fruit needs to be hand-thinned. Peach trees are relatively short-lived compared with other fruit trees. In some orchards, replacement is from eight to ten years, while others may produce satisfactorily for 20-25 years. Short lived peach trees are a particular problem in the USA.

Apricot

Apricots are propagated by budding on peach or apricot rootstocks. Apricots can be readily intergrafted with peaches and plums. Apricot flowers are self-pollinated, and trees grow best in a free draining, preferably light rather than heavy, loamy soil. Most varieties withstand winter cold as well as peaches but, as the flowers open earlier than those of peaches, they are more easily killed by late frost. Apricots are drought resistant and, under favourable conditions, trees in the Mediterranean area can live and produce fruit for up to 100 years.

Rubus
Blackberry and loganberry

The blackberry is native to northern temperate climates of Europe and North America; however, tens of thousands of blackberry hybrids and segregates of various types now exist. They grow from seed or shoots. The loganberry is raised from seed, and is a vigorous growing, trailing plant. Raspberries are propagated by suckers and pruning of old wood, the stronger canes producing more fruit.

Fragaria
Strawberry

Strawberries are propagated from runners from the old plant. They grow on a wide variety of soils and situations compared with other horticultural crops, but are susceptible to drought. For this reason, they grow best on banks with furrows to retain water. The runners are planted in the autumn for fruiting in early summer, and the plants last up to four years. The growing fruit can be protected from moisture on the ground with a mat of straw. Because they deteriorate rapidly and ripen at different times, it is very difficult to harvest strawberries by mechanical means. To avoid bruising, fruits are picked manually and directly placed in baskets or punnets ready for market. Early crops can be grown under glass or plastic.

Modern context

Prunus
Plum

The plum has long been recognised as a fruit with many uses: they can be eaten fresh as a dessert fruit, stewed as compote, baked in pies, made into jam, canned, dried or made into distilled liquor (sljivovica) in the Balkans.

Plums rank next to peaches in terms of commercial production. They are the most extensively distributed of the stone fruits, growing over a wide region in Europe, from Italy to Norway and Sweden. The Republic of Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Turkey and Germany are also plum producers. China is the leading Asian plum producer. The most popular plum in the UK is the Victoria plum. Damsons are a smaller, stronger tasting fruit; these can be cooked and canned, but are rarely sweet enough in northwestern Europe to eat off the tree.

Cherry

There are three main types of cherry: the sweet Prunus avium, the sour or tart cherry Prunus cerasus and the sweet and sour crosses known as the Dukes. They are grown in all regions of the world where winters are not too severe and the summers are moderate. The USA is the leading producer of cherries frozen or canned and processed into sauces and pies.

In season, sweet cherries are consumed fresh and are canned or used in 'maraschino'. They can also be crystallised and used in confectionery or for cocktails. They are a major crop in Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland. Turkey, Japan, Argentina, Chile, Australia and Canada are also substantial producers. In Europe, the fruit is used fresh, canned or made into wine or cherry brandy. Their high sugar content makes them mildly laxative.

Peach

After apples and pears, the peach is the most important of the deciduous tree fruits. In the USA, the peach is second to the apple in importance and they produce about a fifth of the world's supply. Italy is second, producing about one-sixth of the world supply. France, China, Spain, Greece, Argentina, Japan, Turkey, Mexico, South Africa and Australia also produce large quantities.

Some peach varieties have stones that come away from the flesh easily, others have 'clingstones' that adhere to the flesh. The peach is about 87% water and has fewer calories than either apples or pears. Yellow-flesh varieties are especially rich in vitamin A. Peaches are widely eaten fresh as a dessert fruit or stewed, baked, canned or dried. Canned peach is a staple commodity in many regions, and is important in the World Food Trade. Thousands of varieties of peach have been developed and the yellow-flesh varieties 'Elbert', 'Redhaven' and 'Halford' are preferred in North America, while both the white and yellow-flesh varieties are popular in Europe.

Apricot

Apricot, another stone fruit of the family Rosaceae, is usually yellow-fleshed. The kernels of some varieties are sweet and others poisonous. Spain is the leading apricot grower, followed by Iran, Syria, USA, France and Italy. Apricots are a good source of vitamin A, and contain dried apricots in particular contain iron. Seeds contain up to 8% of a cyanogenic glycoside called laetrile.

Apricots can be eaten fresh, cooked, canned, dried or made into pies, juice and jams. Increasingly, they are grown under contract for export to countries like the UK or Sweden that cannot grow them but have a market for them.

Rubus
Blackberry

The blackberry is a trailing, prickly, fruit-bearing bush with clusters of black berries. It is grown under cultivation or as common hedgerow plant in the wild. The berries are rich in iron and vitamin C, and can be eaten fresh, as preserves, conserves, jams, jellies or baked in pies, especially with apples. About 4000 ha in the USA are under blackberry cultivation, with 1500 ha in New Zealand and 500 ha in the UK.

There are several Rubus hybrids of blackberry and red raspberry:

  • the loganberry (noted by Dr Logan in Oregon in 1883) is grown in large quantities in the US states of Oregon and Washington, and in England and Tasmania. Its fruit is deep wine-red in colour and tart and highly flavoured in taste. It can be canned, frozen or made into preserves, pies or wine.
  • the tayberry from Perthshire, Scotland.
  • the boysenberry was created in 1923 in Napa, California, by the American botanist, Rudolph Boysen. It is a hybrid of mixed parentage between loganberry, various blackberries and raspberries.
Raspberry

Raspberries are a summer fruit, and ripen later than strawberries. They are eaten fresh or made into preserves, jams and jellies or are canned or frozen. Raspberries can also be used in liqueurs or made into wine. Major growing areas include the UK, particularly Scotland, Kent, Hereford and Worcestershire, and the USA, particularly Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington and Oregon. Raspberries are a valuable source of iron and vitamin C.

Fragaria
Strawberry

Strawberries are rich in vitamin C and contain iron and other minerals. They can be eaten as a dessert fruit, preserved and used in jams and conserves, baked in pies and used in ice-creams. In the UK, the strawberry eating season has been much extended by the arrival of earlier fruiting varieties from Spain and Italy before home-grown varieties are ready. They are grown throughout most of North America, the UK, Bulgaria, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and in southern and eastern Africa.

Post-harvest

Prunus
Plum

Plums can be eaten fresh, canned, made into preserves or distilled into a spirit called sljivovica. Plums that are dried in dehydrators or under the sun without fermenting are called prunes. Prunes keep far longer than fresh plums. They are made from plums with firm flesh and sufficient sugar to optimise preservation without drying.

Cherry

Sour varieties are frozen, canned, made into preserves or into pies. The sweet varieties are preserved for maraschino liqueur, are crystallised for confectionery or made into wine or brandy. Cherry wood is used for furniture. Asia, in particular Japan, grow beautiful, flowering ornamental cherry trees that do not fruit. These a feature of many gardens and, from 1900 onwards, became increasingly popular throughout the moderate temperate areas of North America and Europe.

Peaches, nectarines and apricots

Nectarines can be canned, preserved in jams and made into pies. Apricots and peaches can be preserved, made into juice and are canned in large tonnages. An extract from apricot seeds, laetril, has been used in Western medicine as a highly controversial alternative treatment for cancer. The seeds also yield oil similar to almond oil (Prunus dulcis), often used in cosmetics.

Rubus
Blackberry and loganberry

Blackberries can be stewed, preserved, canned or made into jams, conserves and jellies. The loganberry can be canned, frozen for preserves or pies or made into wine.

Fragaria
Strawberry

Strawberries can be canned, frozen or preserved in conserves, jams and for pie-fillings.


From: Seeds of trade (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/seeds)

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