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Origins and History of Fruit Trees

tree of knowledge

Historical information on a wide range of fruit trees and berries

History of Introduced Fruits into America - Native American Fruit Trees and Hybrid Fruit Tree Improvements
Copyright © 2006 Patrick Malcolm

Christopher Columbus in 1493 introduced citrus trees into America on the Island of Haiti, by planting the seed of the sweet orange tree, the sour orange, citron, lemon, lime, and pummelo fruit trees. Records show that citrus trees were well established by the Spanish in coastal South Carolina and Saint Augustine, Florida by the year 1563.

Historical English documents show that the Massachusetts Company in 1629 sent seeds of pear trees to plant and grow into fruit trees at the American colony located at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Captain John Smith reported in 1629 that seed-grown peach trees were growing in the American colony at Jamestown, Virginia. Apple trees were grown at Boston, Massachusetts, in 1629 by William Blackstone, an American colonist, and this practice of planting fruit trees rapidly spread among many other farmers there.

Other fruit tree seeds that were sent for colonist farmers to plant and grow were: cherry, peach, plum, filbert, apple, quince, and pomegranate, and according to documents, "they sprung up and flourished."

In 1707 historical Spanish mission documents show that fruit trees being grown by the Spanish-Americans were: oranges, fig trees, quince, pomegranates, peaches, apricots, apples, pear trees, mulberries, pecans and other trees.

General Oglethorpe, the first governor of the colony of Georgia, settled at Fort Frederica, located at Saint Simons Island, Georgia, in 1733, the same date that the city of Savannah, Georgia was founded, with the appointed purpose of introducing fruit trees that would grow valuable food sources for the Georgia farmers. John Bartram, the famous explorer and father of William Bartram traveled extensively, after the Spanish abandoned their lands, to take an inventory of plants, trees, and vines that might be useful to farmers in the American colonies.

General Oglethorpe imported 500 white mulberry trees, Morus alba, in 1733 to encourage and economically support the developing colonial interests in silk production at Fort Frederica, Georgia, colony of the English on the island of Saint Simons, Georgia.

Henry Laurens, a President of the American Continental Congress from South Carolina, introduced: olives, limes, everbearing strawberry, and red raspberry for culture in the colonies and from the south of France, he imported and introduced apples, pears, plums, and the white Chasselas grape which bore abundantly.

In 1763, George Mason recorded in his extensive fruit journal of his home orchard that he had planted an old French variety of pear tree, and he "grafted 10 black pear of Worchester."

The Black Mission fig tree was made famous when it was found growing at a Spanish monastery in 1770.

The first American fruit tree nursery was opened in 1737 by Robert Prince at Flushing, New York who sold fruit to President George Washington, who visited the nursery. Prince Nursery advertised "42 pear trees for sale" in 1771 and "33 kinds of plums." 500 white mulberry trees, Morus Alba, and 1000 black mulberry trees, Morus nigra, were bought by Robert Prince in 1774. Robert Prince sold an extensive list of grafted peach trees to President Thomas Jefferson, to be planted at the Jefferson home orchard at Monticello, Virginia. President Thomas Jefferson loved eating peaches, and he dried the peach slices into "peach chips" for his granddaughter and fermented fresh peaches into peach wine and distilled the mixture further into peach brandy. Jefferson also introduced the French mixture of tea and fresh peach juice called pesche (peach) tea. Jefferson experimented with the delightful "black plumb peach" of Georgia, well known today and still sold as the "Indian Blood Peach Tree." Jefferson believed the Indian Blood Peach grew true to name from planted seed. Jefferson believed this celebrated peach tree had resulted from a natural hybrid cross between the French imported variety, "Sanguinole, " and naturalized peach trees, that were being grown by the Indians. Mulberry trees were planted at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home at a distance of 20 feet apart along with a list of other fruit trees, grapevines, and pecan trees.

William Bartram, in his book, Travels, wrote that he saw vigorous "two or three large apple trees" growing near Mobile, Alabama in 1773. These trees were likely grown from apple seed planted earlier by Indians, a gift from earlier American colonial farmers. Bartram also reported "the wild crabapple," Pyrus coronaria, growing among the apple trees, probably a pollinator. William Bartram wrote that he visited near Mobile Alabama the remains of "ancient habitations, being there an abundance of peach and fig trees loaded with fruit."

Bartram also reported that orange trees were grown and cultivated in large groves in 1790 and "3000 gallons of orange juice were exported." Bartram mistakenly thought that the extensive orchards of citrus trees growing in Florida were native trees, but they had been planted by the Spanish explorers centuries before his book, Travels, was published.

William Bartram discovered the Ogeechee lime tree, Nyssa Ogeechee, growing near the Ogeechee River in Georgia, that "no tree exhibits a more desirable appears than this, in the autumn, when the fruit is ripe" and the fruit "containing an agreeable acid juice." In his explorations, Bartram also reported seeing Chickasaw plum, Prunus chicasaw, and another wild plum, Prunus indica. In 1773, Bartram discovered fig trees planted and flourishing at Fort Frederica, Georgia, writing that after searching the ruins in the town, "only remain, peach trees, figs, pomegranates, and other shrubs, growing out of the ruinous walls of former spacious and expansive buildings, not only in the town, but at a distance in various parts of the island" of Saint Simons, Georgia.

Banana trees were introduced into America from Europe by the early Spanish explorers, and the plantain banana, that required cooking to eat, mutated from a green hard fruit to a sweet, fresh eating, yellow banana in the year 1836. A Jamaican, Jean Francois Poujot, discovered this outstanding banana cultivar growing quite distinctively different in appearance from the other plantain bananas planted in the field. Mr. Poujot multiplied this banana tree mutation into what would become the most popular and the most famous fruit tree in the world.

Apple tree orchards developed very rapidly in the 1800's from the sale of apple seed for planting by the legendary Johnny Appleseed.

Perhaps the greatest developmental horticulturist and pomologist who ever lived was Luther Burbank, who settled in California and published a giant set of 10 volumes of books that outlined his fantastic experiments to improve fruit trees, berry plants, grapevines, nut trees, and many other perennials to include shade trees. Luther Burbank bred out the fuzz from peaches, which he stabilized into commercial nectarine trees. He also made many advances in hybridizing tasty varieties of plums and peach trees. Burbank imported Japanese, Oriental plum trees to be inbred with native American plum trees, that led to growing many commercial varieties that are top producers even today, such as: Burbank plum tree, Methley plum trees, Santa Rosa plum trees, and many others. Burbank strongly felt that the native American cherry trees that were extremely cold hardy should be intercrossed with commercial cherries in order to stabilize and inbreed the factor of cold hardiness. Burbank made numerous improvements on fruit trees involving pear trees and apple trees.

Fruit trees have provided food to wildlife, bird, and animals since the Biblical account of creation. Many birds are totally dependant on seeds of fruits, buts, berries, and grapes. Even when the pulpy, fleshy portions of fruits are gone, the seed remains preserved for months and sometimes for years to provide nourishment for wildlife birds and animals, and many of these seed being undigested germinate to grow later into pear trees, pecan trees, muscadine vines, or black raspberry bushes. The fruit trees of the world not only furnish calories for energetic living, but vitamins that are essential for growth are transplanted by the sunshine photosynthesis processes into forming fruits, berries, nuts, and grapes to insure a wonderful healthy lifestyle will continue. These fruit trees synthesize hormones and form the building blocks of proteins, fatty acids, and carbohydrates that chemically evolve into antioxidants. These antioxidants can help or suppress harmful body aging processes that often end in heart attacks, stroke, faulty blood pressure, and Alzheimer's disease. Fruit trees, berry plants, nut trees, and grapevines are essential for man's continued ability to maintain functional healthy bodies and to accumulate substantial agricultural wealth.

William Bartram reported in his book, Travels, the finding of fruit trees at a French plantation on an island at the Pearl River. Bartram wrote that he viewed "manured fruit trees arrive in this island to the utmost degree of perfection, as Pears, Peaches, Figs, Grape Vines, Plumbs & C.; the last mention genus, there is a native species that grows in this island, which produces its large...crimson fruit...of a most enticing appearance."

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Written by: Patrick Malcolm. Learn more about various trees
by visiting the author's website: http://www.tytyga.com
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Last modified: 10/25/13