Peaches Are From China

Published on

  The Latin binomial for peaches is Prunus persica, which is a bit misleading. The genus name is fine – Prunus, a genus in the rose family (Rosaceae) that includes peaches and nectarines, plums, cherries, almonds, and apricots. This reference to Persia (present day Iraq) is a misnomer, since peaches originate from China, which today by far out produces all other countries in edible peach production.  Peaches eventually made it to Persia, then to Europe, then from Spanish explorers to the New World, where they were planted into orchards in Georgia, the Peach State by the 1600s, and became Part of Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello.


Flowering peach blossoms
Flowering peach blossoms


  The name game for peaches is interesting. For the early Romans it was malum persicum or Persian apples” indicating their relationship to apples (Malus), also in the rose family.  In French it is pêche, in English of course – peach.  The name Prunus persica itself means “Persian plum”, again indicating interrelationship with plums that are in the Prunus genus and the rose family. Also of interest is that both peaches and nectarines are considered not only in the same genus, but also  in the same species (though different cultivars=cultivated varieties), Prunus persica, nectarines simply being fuzz-less peaches.


Soft pink and coral pink flowering peach blossoms
Soft pink and coral pink flowering peach blossoms


  Above and now, for the main event: flowering or ornamental peaches – not the usual topic here in the U.S..  These are also Prunus persica,  but types that do not produce edible fruits, but rather hard, small fruits. These are being planted some in the United States, mostly further south than Ohio due to hardiness issues, but I suspect that in the coming years we will see them more and more in Ohio: Joe Boggs notes he is starting to see them in the Cincinnati area. Why does this matter?  Because they are spectacular!


Flowering peach trees
Beijing Botanic Gardens and flowering peaches


  Colors of reds, pinks, whites, often on the same tree and even in the same blossom.


Multiple hues on one flowering peach tree
Multiple colors in flowering peach bloom


 The architecture of the tree is also a delight for landscape architects and designers. Low-growing, spreading branch structure.


Flowering peach architecture
Designing with pink flowering peaches
A red flowering peach
Red blooming flowering peach at Beijing Botanic Garden


  The pictures here, all from the Beijing Botanic Gardens and environs also show a flowering peach known as “Chrysanthemum”, according to Dr. Ling Guo, with a very different flower type.    


"Chrysanthemum" flowering peach
"Chrysanthemum" flowering peach


  Wow!  Not really for central and northern Ohio gardens yet, I suspect, relative to hardiness, but as Peter Smithers said:

  “I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself.”

  Check these flowering peaches out – and eat more peaches. Peaches are revered in China for their symbolism of vitality. And long before elder wands of Harry Potter fame, Chinese legend and literature tells us of peach rods used to protect from evil spirits.

  And now for two additional rosarians (in this case a neologism meant to denote genera in the Rosaceae):

  Exochorda. This plant, native to China, known as pearlbush for its pearl-like flower buds, is being used increasingly as a small- to medium-sized shrub in American gardens. It first came to my attention years ago in a mass planting by a church in Marysville. Quite lovely in its snowy-white effect. In the Beijing Botanic Gardens, as seen below, this genus is a wonderful small tree.  I say genus, because I do not know what species or cultivar this was in Beijing. The hybrid cultivar ‘The Bride’ is highly touted. 


pearlbush tree in China
Exochorda tree in China


Pearlbush flowers
Pearlbush flowers


  Chaenomeles speciosa. The Chinese flowering quince or ornamental quince was at the Summer Palace in Beijing and was a fine specimen with mottled bark and lovely flowers. Lois Rose of Cleveland, an ArborEatum edible plants-lover extraordinaire, will enjoy the fact that though this tree is not typically used for eating like Cydonia quinces, it can be “bletted” (harvested after frost like medlars) and converted into liqueurs. The fruits also have more vitamin C than lemons.


CHaenomeles flower
Chaenomeles flower


Chaenomeles bark
Mottled bark of Chaenomeles speciosa


Chaenomeles tree at Summer Palace
Chaenomeles speciosa at Summer Palace


Finally: One more image of flowering peaches. Oh, and one more note: we speak above and in many bygl-alerts of plant families (which are groups of related genera; genera being groups of related species).  Want to learn more about these family affairs?   Come to Secrest Arboretum on May 16 from 9:00 to 3:00 and listen and chat for a bit then spend the rest of the time in the Arboretum looking at plant family representatives. A bargain at any price, but its only $15, including lunch.  


Flowering peach
Flowering peach


  Here’s how to register: