70726thumbCher explained a long time ago that a half-breed is nothing to brag about. Some of us just don’t get it. A few clients still introduce me to their weirdly bred stone fruit trees as if they are both justification for great pride, as well as something that a professional horticulturist of the Santa Clara Valley has not already encountered a few thousand times. I at least try to act impressed.

The stone fruits that grew in the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley half a century ago were the best. That is why they were grown here. The climate and soil were ideal for their production. Traditional cultivars produced so abundantly and reliably that there was no need to breed new cultivars. The quality was exemplary. Consequently, only a few were actually developed here.

Half-breeds, or weird breeds of any unnatural ratio, started to be developed more than a century ago. A few happened incidentally where different species of the same genus of Prunus grew. They were enjoyed as novelties for home gardens, but were not sufficiently productive or reliable for orchard production. Their fruit was for fresh eating only, since it did not dry or can well.

Now that the orchards are gone, and the only stone fruits in the Santa Clara Valley are in home gardens, these weird half-breeds and others are becoming more popular. Nurseries will soon be stocking several along with their incoming bare root stock. There is certainly nothing wrong with them. However, they are not necessarily any better than their well bred ancestors either.

Apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum and prune, as well as almond, are the traditional stone fruits, of the genus Prunus. (Almonds are the seeds or ‘stones’ of a stone fruit that does not get eaten, but instead gets discarded as a hull.) There are many cultivars of each. Some can be canned. Prunes and some apricots can be dried. There is no need for more, or for ‘improvement’.

Pluot, plumcot, aprium, apriplum, nectaplum, peacotum, pluerry and others like them are the weird interspecific hybrids (which are hybrids of two or more species within the same genus, which for these examples is ‘Prunus‘). Some are half-breeds. Some are breeds of different ratios, such as a half-breed with a half-breed parent, or a half-breed grandparent. It is confusing!

It is also an unjustifiable fad. There are more disadvantages to these weirdly bred stone-fruits than there are advantages. They really don’t get the best of both parents, but might get half of each. Again, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. There are those who legitimately prefer such hybrids. The point is that fads are not necessarily good, and many are just plain weird.

20 thoughts on “Horridculture – Half-Breed

  1. It’s like Labradoodles and Cockapoos, isn’t it? Marketing style but not the right substance. We get Pluots and heaven knows what else in UK supermarkets now. They’re as hard as bullets and lack flavour, or the flavour they have is muddled. They definitely don’t melt in the mouth like a ripe peach, or a perfect plum. I’m currently reviewing my very elderly back garden orchard to see what really needs to go and what I might like to replace them with. Designer-named hybrids won’t feature.

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    1. The classics are still the best. If combining them was a good idea, it would have been done a long time ago. I think many people who think they like the hybrids are just going along with the fad. They certainly are not bad, and some people probably really do prefer them.

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  2. People like new things. That’s why we have flavored coffee and pickle flavored potato chips (I kid you not). My grocery store occasionally has these weird flattened peach-like things. Perhaps they are one of the strange fruits mentioned, but they look a bit mutant. I haven’t been able to accept white peaches (way too sweet, but that’s what people like) much less something that looks squashed!

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      1. Paw paws and American persimmons can be grown in many places beyond their native ranges. They just are not poplar. The only American persimmon tree that I knew of here grew from the understock of a Japanese persimmon tree. Until recently, the only paw paws that I knew of were grown here from seed. I noticed that nursery in Aptos has paw paw seedlings, but no one knows what they are.

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      2. Well, people in the southern midwest and the south know what they are. I just recently revealed my local patch to someone. They are lovely understory trees and would work in a shady yard…(hehe, I didn’t reveal all the places I know they grow…)

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      3. Paw paw or persimmon? I found persimmon to be quite common, particularly around where we were in Pecan Valley Junction. I found many at Lake Thunderbird too. They were SO rad! I never saw a paw paw though.

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      4. The thing about the paw paws is that you have to go into the woods to see them. Persimmons will grow in or out and people do know more about them, but we knew about them as kids, and when I moved to Virginia (ages ago) I kept my eyes peeled for them on hikes. They’re usually in a grove and fairly striking with their big leaves.

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      5. After I sent that comment, it occurred to me that you were not in Oklahoma, which is what I made reference to. I am even less familiar with what is endemic to your region. I really should get out more.

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      6. They like the deep woods or a situation without full sun. There’s a little stand of them in one of the lesser used city parks. One year there was yellow tape blocking the way to them, trying to get people to stay on the paths, but I could see paths through the tall grass leading out to them. People who know what they are want to see if there’s any fruit…

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  3. GREAT POST! My grandparents had a large apple orchard and peach orchard here when I was a kid. They grew grapes, berries, and so on. My favorite was fruit from the white peaches and apricot tree next to the driveway. They are all gone now and I haven’t planted any new fruit trees. I get catalogs from a few nurseries and often wondered what some of the “half breeds” tasted like.

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    1. Half breeds really are good. What I dislike about them is that they are such a fad. Those who subscribe to the fad really believe that they are somehow better that their parents. No one will ever convince me that any of those half breeds are better than the simpler fruits from my garden. ‘Bing’ cherry, ‘Moorpark’ apricot and ‘Blenheim’ apricot don’t leave much room for improvement.

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      1. When it comes to fruit, I will try about anything. Trying to relive the experience as often as possible. 🙂 Dr. Skinner had a HUGE plum tree in the backyard at her Carson (CA) home and she said they were the best. They were indeed delicious.

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    1. I consider nectarines weird only because they were not grown in more than a few of the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley. There were peaches, but they were not as common as the others. They are really just fuzzless peaches, so could be classified as the same; sort of like all the cultivars of blackberry that seem to be classified as separate species. They are not really hybridized with plums.

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