Monday, May 23, 2016

The Peach - Prunus persica

The Peach - Prunus persica is most easily identified by its distinctive fruit and long narrow leaves.  It is a small deciduous tree that only reaches average heights of 10-30 feet tall.  The Peach is commercially cultivated and generally well managed in size and shape, however when found in the wild it often grows in a more shrubby habit.   The tree in generally grows in an erect form, with a single trunk and open crown.  Initially introduced from China, the Peach has been established in almost all of the Eastern United States.  Peaches were brought to the United States in the 16th century and to Europe during the 17th century.  Peach trees are often found growing wildly along fence lines, in old fields, on roadsides, and escaped from cultivation on the edges of farms.


Image Citation: Paul Bachi, University of Kentucky Research and Education Center, Bugwood.org

The bark of the Peach is reddish-brown in color with hairless twigs.  The leaves are alternate, simple in shape and elliptic or lanceolate, often folding upward from the mid rib area.  Leaves are a bright-deep green in color when mature, often slightly lighter when young.  The dark pink flowers of the Peach tree are 2-4 cm in diameter with 5 petals each, occuring in the early Spring.  The fruit is rounded, occasionally with a slight point at the base, yellowish to orange drupe with a red tinge in sections and a generally hairy surface.  The fruit has a 4-8 cm stone like pit in the center.  Commercially Peaches mature during the Summer season, with some heirloom varieties not maturing until late Summer or very early Fall.



Image Citation: Paul Bachi, University of Kentucky Research and Education Center, Bugwood.org

Peaches grown commercially are an important crop and a popular fruit.  China is currently the number one producer of Peaches worldwide.  A ripe Peach is best found by first smelling the fruit, there should be a sweet fragrance and then gently squeeze the Peach, when ripe they will never be hard.   It has been found that there are over 110 various chemical compounds within a Peach that create their unique aroma. Thought they are a fruit which many automatically assumes makes them "healthy" the average fruit has very little nutritional value.  There are currently over 2000 known varieties of peaches in the world today, many of which are suitable for growing within your own garden.


Image Citation: Peggy Greb, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org


In many cultures Peaches also have symbolic values.  In China Peach blossoms are considered to be a symbol of vitality as the blossoms appear prior to the leaves.  They are also often called Peaches of Immortality, local magistrates would cut peach wood branches and place them over their doors to protect against evils. One of Japan's most noble and semihistorical heroes, Momotaro was born from within an enormous peach floating down a stream.  

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