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Front Page » November 8, 2011 » Carbon County News » Ask an Expert
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Why 'heritage' fruit trees are getting hard to find

Answer by: Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist with information from Teryl Roper, Utah State University Plants, Soils and Climate department head.

Questions about fruit growing are common to Utah State University Extension horticulturists. The topic has been raised about fruit varieties once available in the not-so-distant-past and why these varieties are difficult to find or are not available today. Consider this information. 

  * An example of one of these "lost" varieties is the Potawatomi plum. It was once widely planted in the Intermountain West. According to the 1910 published Agricultural Experiment Station book, "The Plums of New York," the variety was found in 1875 in Tennessee. People quickly recognized its excellent flavor, cold hardiness and disease resistance, and it became popular throughout much of the United States. The book states that the plum "is possibly of greater cultural value than any other of its species especially for northern latitudes. It's of high quality...the texture of the fruit being especially pleasing in eating, and though melting and juicy it keeps and ships well because of its tough skin." The plum is still found on old homesteads and roadsides, but it is no longer known to be commercially available.

  As to why varieties as highly regarded as the Potawatomi plum lose favor, the reasons are many. Culturally, eating habits change. Many nursery owners have noted that the number of plums they sell has greatly declined over the last several years.   

  Economics also play an important role. New fruit cultivars are regularly introduced by breeders and nurseries. These offer greater choice to consumers and often have superior characteristics. These may include such things as better flavor, ripening more consistently for easier harvest, resistance to bruising, increased disease resistance and retaining quality longer in storage than older cultivars. Many orchardists note that because of these reasons, it doesn't make sense to keep older fruit cultivars in their orchards. 

  An example of a successful new fruit cultivar supplanting older types is the Honeycrisp apple. It has become wildly popular to the point that some garden centers have trouble keeping it stocked. It has good flavor, stores well, ripens consistently in our climate and is cold hardy in most populated areas of Utah.

Orchardists and home gardeners have planted it and other new cultivars in favor of older ones. One orchardist reported that he sells dozens of bushels of Honeycrisp apples and very few of either Red or Golden Delicious, two older cultivars that have been losing favor with consumers.

  With all of this said, there are those who still favor heritage varieties such as the Golden Delicious apple (discovered in West Virginia in 1905) and still want to have them in their orchards. Fortunately, most can still be found with some effort. Local retailers are a great place to start, and the Internet is also helpful, where there are several reliable companies from which to choose.


Direct column topics to Julene Reese, Utah State University Extension writer, Logan, Utah, 84322-4900, 435-797-0810;

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