WILLIAM KERR HIGLEY,
Secretary of The Chicago Academy of Sciences.
THE peach (Amygdalus persica, L.), is one of our most important and best-known fruits.
It is not found in the wild state, in its present form, though in some localities it propagates itself, having escaped from cultivation.
It is probably a native of China, where it has been cultivated for centuries and where it is said to reach its greatest perfection, although Darwin holds that the evidence seems to indicate that the wild almond of Persia is the original source of the cultivated almond, the peach, and the nectarine. The specific name persica, has its origin in the fact that the peach was obtained from Persia, both by the Romans and the Greeks.
Dr. Willis tells us that “it was introduced into Italy from Persia by the Romans, in the reign of Claudius Caesar. It was introduced into Great Britain during the sixteenth century, and thence brought in 1680 by the settlers of Virginia to America.”
The number of varieties seems to be unlimited. Over four hundred have been catalogued, though less than one ‘hundred of these are constant. The nectarine is considered a variety and closely related to the peach and the plum, the apricot, and the cherry.
The tree itself, when bearing its beautiful rose-colored, five-petaled flowers, is highly ornamental. It seldom grows higher than twenty feet and its branches form asymmetrical top. One very ornamental variety produces double flowers and bright, shining leaves, but no fruit.
This valuable plant is generally placed in the family Rosaceoe, which includes many species of economic and ornamental importance. Besides those already mentioned, here belong the rose, the strawberry, the raspberry, the blackberry, the apple, the pear, and the quince, as well as many beautiful wild forms.
The thousand or mote species usually classed in this family may be readily separated into distinct groups, to which are given distinct family names by some authorities. Thus, the peach, the cherry, the plum, and the almond, which resemble each other in regard to the structure of their fruits and in their chemical constituents, may be placed in a family by themselves.
It is of interest to note that this luscious fruit was not always considered free from noxious qualities. Pliny states that it was considered by some that its presence in Egypt was due to its introduction there by the Persian king for the purpose of poisoning his enemies.
The Chinese writings refer to the peach as early as the fifth century before Christ, and it is given the name “tao” by Confucius. We are also told that in these writings “the peach tree holds the same place that the tree of knowledge does in the sacred scriptures, and that the golden Hesperides, apples of the heathen, hold among the western nations.”
In Chinese mythology a peach tree is mentioned which was thought to possess the power of causing immortality but which produced its fruit but once in a thousand years, and another, which grew on a mountain and which existed in the early history of China, was said to be guarded by a number of demons.