|Peach flower, fruit, seed and leaves as illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885).|
|Autumn Red peaches, cross section|
(L.) Batsch 1801 not Stokes 1812 nor (L.) Siebold & Zucc. 1845
The peach (Prunus persica) is a deciduous tree native to the region of Northwest China between the Tarim Basin and the north slopes of the Kunlun Shan mountains, where it was first domesticated and cultivated. It bears an edible juicy fruit called a peach or a nectarine.
The specific epithet persica refers to its widespread cultivation in Persia (modern-day Iran), whence it was transplanted to Europe. It belongs to the genus Prunus which includes the cherry, apricot, almond and plum, in the rose family. The peach is classified with the almond in the subgenus Amygdalus, distinguished from the other subgenera by the corrugated seed shell.
Peach and nectarines are the same species, even though they are regarded commercially as different fruits. In contrast to peaches, whose fruits present the characteristic fuzz on the skin, nectarines are characterized by the absence of fruit-skin trichomes (fuzz-less fruit); genetic studies suggest nectarines are produced due to a recessive allele, whereas peaches are produced from a dominant allele for fuzzy skin.
Prunus persica grows to 4–10 m (13–33 ft) tall and 6 in. in diameter. The leaves are lanceolate, 7–16 cm (2.8–6.3 in) long, 2–3 cm (0.79–1.18 in) broad, pinnately veined. The flowers are produced in early spring before the leaves; they are solitary or paired, 2.5–3 cm diameter, pink, with five petals. The fruit has yellow or whitish flesh, a delicate aroma, and a skin that is either velvety (peaches) or smooth (nectarines) in different cultivars. The flesh is very delicate and easily bruised in some cultivars, but is fairly firm in some commercial varieties, especially when green. The single, large seed is red-brown, oval shaped, approximately 1.3–2 cm long, and is surrounded by a wood-like husk. Peaches, along with cherries, plumsand apricots, are stone fruits (drupes). There are various heirloom varieties, including the Indian peach, which arrives in the latter part of the summer.
Cultivated peaches are divided into clingstones and freestones, depending on whether the flesh sticks to the stone or not; both can have either white or yellow flesh. Peaches with white flesh typically are very sweet with little acidity, while yellow-fleshed peaches typically have an acidic tang coupled with sweetness, though this also varies greatly. Both colors often have some red on their skin. Low-acid white-fleshed peaches are the most popular kinds in China, Japan, and neighbouring Asian countries, while Europeans and North Americans have historically favoured the acidic, yellow-fleshed cultivars.
The scientific name persica, along with the word "peach" itself and its cognates in many European languages, derives from an early European belief that peaches were native to Persia(modern-day Iran). The Ancient Romans referred to the peach as malum persicum "Persian apple", later becoming French pêche, hence the English "peach". The scientific name, Prunus persica, literally means "Persian plum", as it is closely related to the plum.
Fossil endocarps with characteristics indistinguishable from those of modern peaches have been recovered from late Pliocene deposits in Kunming, dating to 2.6 million years ago. In the absence of evidence that the plants were in other ways identical to the modern peach, the name Prunus kunmingensis has been assigned to these fossils.
Although its botanical name Prunus persica refers to Persia (present Iran) from where it came to Europe, genetic studies suggest peaches originated in China, where they have been cultivated since the early days of Chinese culture. Until recently, it was believed that the cultivation started circa 2000 BC. Nevertheless, the recent evidence indicates that domestication occurred as early as 6000 BC in Zhejiang Province of China. The oldest archaeological peach stones are from the Kuahuqiao site. Archaeologists point at the Yangzi River valley as the place where the early selection for favorable peach varieties likely took place.
Peaches were mentioned in Chinese writings as far back as the 10th century BC and were a favoured fruit of kings and emperors. The history of cultivation of peaches in China has been extensively reviewed citing numerous original manuscripts dating back to 1100 BC.
An apparently domesticated peach appeared very early in Japan, in 6700–6400 BP (4700–4400 BC), during the Jomon period. It was already similar to modern cultivated forms, where the peach stones are significantly larger and more compressed than earlier stones. This domesticated type of peach was apparently brought into Japan from China. Nevertheless, in China, itself, this variety is currently attested only at a later date of ca. 5300 to 4300 BP.
It is also found elsewhere in Western Asia in ancient times. Peach cultivation also went from China, through Persia, and reached Greece by 300 BC. Alexander the Great introduced the fruit into Europe after he conquered the Persians. Peaches were well known to the Romans in first century AD, and were cultivated widely in Emilia-Romagna. Peach trees are portrayed in the wall paintings of the towns destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD, while the oldest known artistic representations of the fruit are in the two fragments of wall paintings, dated back to the first century AD, in Herculaneum, now preserved in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
The peach was brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, and eventually made it to England and France in the 17th century, where it was a prized and expensive treat. The horticulturist George Minifie supposedly brought the first peaches from England to its North American colonies in the early 17th century, planting them at his Estate of Buckland in Virginia. Although Thomas Jefferson had peach trees at Monticello, United States farmers did not begin commercial production until the 19th century in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia, and finally Virginia.
In April 2010, an international consortium, the International Peach Genome Initiative (IPGI), that include researchers from the United States, Italy, Chile, Spain, and France announced they had sequenced the peach tree genome (doubled haploid Lovell). Recently, IPGI published the peach genome sequence and related analyses. The peach genome sequence is composed of 227 millions of nucleotides arranged in eight pseudomolecules representing the eight peach chromosomes (2n = 16). In addition, a total of 27,852 protein-coding genes and 28,689 protein-coding transcripts were predicted.
Particular emphasis in this study is reserved to the analysis of the genetic diversity in peach germplasm and how it was shaped by human activities such as domestication and breeding. Major historical bottlenecks were individuated, one related to the putative original domestication that is supposed to have taken place in China about 4,000–5,000 years ago, the second is related to the western germplasm and is due to the early dissemination of the peach in Europe from China and to the more recent breeding activities in the United States and Europe. These bottlenecks highlighted the strong reduction of genetic diversity associated with domestication and breeding activities.
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