A Purple Flower Is Crossed With A White Flower History Of Plum Trees And Their Hybrids

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History Of Plum Trees And Their Hybrids

Documentation of plumes in antiquity is sparse. The best evidence for that oldest existence is well documented by America’s most famous pomologist, Luther Burbank, who noted in his twelve-volume botanical classic, Small Fruits, Volume IV page 136, that the European plum, Prunus domestica, and its ancestor fruit originated steps In the Caucasus Mountains near the Caspian Sea. Burbank provides detailed evidence that prunes (dried raisins) were the staple food of the Tartars, Mongols, Turks, and Huns “who from the earliest times maintained orchards.” Several websites have posited the absurd idea that the seeds of the European plum, Prunus domestica, were not found in the ruins of Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, “so, most other Old World fruits were,” that the plum was a “spontaneous chromosome” to produce these hexaploid offspring. It can be concluded that the doubler is a recent hybrid.

The earliest reference to plum history in the American colonies comes from Prince’s Nursery of Flushing, New York, which was established in 1737 and listed in a 1771 advertisement for “33 kinds of plums” for sale. These plum trees were no doubt European plums, Prunus domestica.

After 1755, Henry Lawrence, who was a guest and friend of William Bartram, brought olives, lemons, ginger, everbearing strawberries, red raspberries, and blue grapes to the United States. From the south of France he brought apples, pears, plums and white Chasselas grapes which were fed in abundance. Henry Lawrence lived in Charleston, South Carolina and served as President of the Continental Congress.

William Bartram described two species of American plums in his famous book Travels in 1792 in Georgia, where he identified the Chickasaw plum, Prunus chickasaw, and found a wild plum, Prunus indica, in Alabama.

Luther Burbank contributed more to the improvement and hybridization of plum trees than any other person in history. His work on the plum group of stone fruits stands out from any other individual as he has contributed immensely to the improvement of the variety of fruits grown and consumed today.

Burbank states that his importation of twelve plum plants in 1885 was “the most important importation of fruit bearing fruit into America at one time”.

Burbank brought plums from around the world and intercrossed them in a giant “melting pot” to create the best traits and reject the wrong ones. These genetic plum mixtures were recombined over many generations and resulted in plum hybrids today that are so different from the original species that new species appear.

Burbank said he spent more time hybridizing plums than any other plant breeding program and reported that he screened 7.5 million plum hybrid seedling crosses before releasing the remaining varieties for sale. His famous line of plum trees, popular in the late 1890s, is still admired and commercially grown for sale in backyard gardens such as Burbank, Santa Rosa, Wickson, Golden, Satsuma, Shiro and Ozark Premier. His first major success was applauded by USDA professor, HE Van Damon, who suggested that Luther Burbank’s pick-of-the-lot creation be named after its creator, thus, the “Burbank plum.”

The most successful crosses in plums come from Japanese plums, the most elegant, ‘Satsuma’, a name suggested by USDA Professor HE van Damon, who identified it as imported from the Satsuma province of Japan. This unique plum has raised red skin with a pale blue net covering. The pulp was dark purplish-red, firm, tasty and of excellent quality preferred for home consumption.

Burbank’s experimental species were Japanese plums, Prunus triflora, which grew wild in Japan and were pickled by local people. Japanese plums grew in many colors from white to purple skin, were large and tasteless, but the Japanese ate them when they were green and hard. Japanese plum genes dominate most hybrid plum progeny. Chinese plums, Prunus simonii, are fragrant, with richly colored skin, a small pit, but the skin cracks and the fruit has a bitter taste.

European plums, Prunus domestica, vary in size, from the largest to the smallest, sweet or sour, complex genes, many colored skins, very widely adaptable, good for fresh eating, drying or canning. Disadvantages: They are too juicy or watery. “Green Gage” is a well-known standard European breed. Prunes are very high in sugar.

Many species of American plums are hardy and productive enough to cover the ground with several layers of fruit in the spring. These plums may be tasty but have poor shipping quality. Burbank released an excellent hybrid strain of this cross called “Robinson Plum”.

Several American native plum species have been used in Luther Burbank’s hybridization experiments. American plums, Prunus americana, wild goose plums, Prunus hortulans, Chickasaw plum, Prunus augustifolia, western sand plum, Prunus bessi, beech plum, Prunus maritima and California wild plum, Prunus subcordata. These native plum trees are remarkably cold hardy and are unharmed by cold temperatures, even in the north central United States.

“Myrobalan” plum originated as a French species, Prunus cerasifera is widely used as peach tree and plum tree rootstock which is compatible with the resulting fruit tree union and appears to be highly resistant to nematodes and root diseases.

Burbank’s goal in hybridizing plums was to create a tree with “stability, novelty, variety, hardiness, beauty, shipping quality and adaptability”.

Plum leaves and twigs exhibit many subtle characteristics that can be experienced by plant hybridizers to predict the future characteristics of fruits grown from crosses of young plants. Most hybridizers experience predictable results, even if these plant traits are too abstract to explain to an audience, such as changes in facial expression or minute changes in color changes. If the leaves are dark red, the fruit will be red. The same phenomenon applies to flowers such as the canna lily’s leaf color and red rhizome color; or in crinum lily cultivars, a red bulb means a red flower; A light green bulb means a white flower.

Luther Burbank developed the seedless plum by hybridizing the French plum cultivar “Sans Noiai”. These berries develop in a variety of skin colors ranging from white to yellow, orange crimson, crimson, violet, deep blue, almost black, striped, spotted, and mottled. These seedless plums were delicious and unique, but were never commercially successful among growers or in public demand.

Burbank crossed many plums with a tendency to produce sweet fruits with high sugar content, such as figs, pineapples and oranges. This high sugar content insures long-term preservation of the raisins (prunes) after drying. Prunes have a thick and firm skin with a texture that is essential to prevent cracking once the commercial drying process begins and to continue to produce flavorful, honey-sweet fruit that keeps well.

Prunes will not dry properly into marketable fruit unless the plum has a sugar content of at least 15%. Before drying, the prunes are briefly dipped in an alkali solution that prevents future fermentation by preventing microbes from growing on the surface of the skin. For commercially satisfactory pruning production, the pruning tree must be a reliable producer with an abundant annual crop of fruit. Prunes must be harvested early, when the days are long and warm, and must be dropped from the tree to avoid expensive picking costs at ripeness. Pruned fruits should heal and dry to a black color and develop a small pit. Most prunes have been hybridized from the European plum, Prunus domestica.

There are also three ornamental varieties of flowering plum trees that are recommended for planting: Newport, Prunus cerasifera ‘Newport’, Purple Pony Prunus cerasifera ‘Purple Pony’, and Red Leaf Plum Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’, flowering plum trees.

Burbank developed purple-leaved plum trees from the progenitor of the French plum, Prunus pissardi, which is sold commercially as ‘Thundercloud’ flowering plums, Vesuvius and Othello. Some of these red leaf flower plums developed by Burbank grow delicious red fruit in addition to beautiful red decorative leaves.

Raisins are rated high in antioxidant content which provides many health benefits such as vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C, niacin and minerals; Calcium, potassium, phosphorus and iron.

Burbank overcame the complexities of plum hybridization and crossed the plum with the almond, Prunus dulcis, hoping to produce a tasty almond kernel and tasty pulp. He used apricot, Prunus armeniaca L. made many crosses with and produced plumcot trees, a 50/50 mix of plum and apricot trees; Pluto trees represent a 75/25 mix of plum and apricot trees; and a 75/25 mix of apricot trees and plum trees.

Copyright (c) 2006 Patrick Malcolm

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