Fresh Facts 47: The Birds & The Bees

Lots of people who clearly understand where babies come from and why they are different have no clue where different varieties of fruit come from.

Fear not Abundant Harvesters, Uncle Vern is here to give you “The Talk.” And for you parents that have been needing to get this out of the way, just consider it part of our full service educational communications here from AHO.

What pointed-up the need for this talk was a question from a grown man with a few kids—a couple of which are grown themselves—after eating a particularly delicious nectarine: “If I plant the pit from this nectarine, how long until I can pick fruit like this?”

Oh, my goodness. I had to take the fellow clear back to the basics; which although a bit embarrassing for him, he thanked me at the end saying: “no one ever explained this to me before.”

So that apricot you so enjoy looks just like every other apricot on the tree which looks just like every other apricot in the orchard. That’s because it was “asexually propagated.” Or, put more simply, a bud from the “Mother” tree was budded onto a special root chosen to perform in the specific soil the farmer was going to plant; but rootstock is a topic for another note.

Every bud on the mother tree contains exactly the same genetic information. There was no exchange of genetic material transferring the bud from the mother tree to the rootstock. The root stays the root, which supports the budded top, and the fruit will look just like it did on the parent tree.

The exchange of genetic material happens at pollination. The fruit will look and taste the same, the difference will be in the seed, or more precisely, the almond looking kernel inside the pit.

So, if my friend had planted the pit from the nectarine he so enjoyed, he may very well-have gotten fruit, but the tree would most likely be weak growing on its own root and both the new tree and its resulting fruit would be a cross between the female stamen (the sticky central part of the flower) and male pollen (the yellow stuff that grows around the edge.) The likelihood that it would be much like the nectarine he enjoyed so much is quite slim.

When people take pollen from one variety and touch it to the stamen of another, they are called “Plant Breeders.” This is also called sexual reproduction because it’s done through pollination. The plant breeders are very specific in their work crossing varieties with specific desirable traits in a very methodical way.

One local guy makes 60,000 specific crosses, recording the parentage of each and replicates each 10 to 15 times (yes, that’s 6-900,000 flowers) tying a paper bag around the branch when he’s done so no other pollen can get in. After planting and growing the pit, he gets tiny fruit the size of maybe an olive, evaluates that and decides if it has merit to be budded onto a mature tree for further evaluation over several years and possible release to farmers.

Of the 60,000 crosses, they only brought 300 out for further evaluation. From pollination to a producing commercial orchard is commonly 10 years. Add four more for these French nectarines that have to come through customs, quarantine, and then prove themselves in our climate.

And now you know where fruit comes from. If you have any other questions, go ask your mom.

Eat better!

Author Uncle Vern

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