Peach (Fr. peche; Lat. persica), a fruit tree widely cultivated in all countries where the climate is not too severe. It belongs to the rose family (rosacea), and was formerly called Persica vulgaris. Its close affinity with the almond led later botanists to unite it with that, and it now stands in most modern works as amygdalus Persica; but there are not suffi cient botanical differences between the peach, almond, apricot, plum, and cherry to separate them as distinct genera, and the most recent view places them all in one genus, prunus, grouped in several subgenera; in view of this the botanical name for the peach likely to be hereafter accepted is prunus Persica. The belief that the peach originated in Persia is indicated in its early generic and present specific names, and by its having been formerly called malum Persicum; it was apparently brought from that country to Europe, but De Candolle, who has carefully investigated the matter, regards the trees growing wild in Turkey, Persia, and other parts of western Asia as indi-cations that the fruit has long been cultivated in those countries, and thinks its probable origin was in China, where it has been cultivated from the earliest times. The peach is not mentioned in the Bible, though the almond is named several times.
Darwin evidently inclines to the view that the peach is derived from the almond, as the two have been cross-fertilized and produced fruit intermediate in character; this with other facts supporting this view, as well as the evidence to the contrary, are given in detail in his "Plants and Animals under Domestication" (1868). - The peach is a tree of medium size with a spreading head, rarely reaching 30 ft., and usually not more than 15 or 20 ft. high; it is commonly regarded as a short-lived tree, but in a genial soil and climate it attains a good age, there being in Virginia trees that were planted 70 years ago, and there is in France a vigorous tree known to be 95 years old and supposed to be considerably over 100. The leaves are petioled, long, narrowly lanceolate, and serrate, of a deep green color, which in autumn turns yellowish or brown; upon the petioles and at the base of the leaf are often found small glands which are of use in describing varieties, and the presence or absence of these glands is pretty constantly attended by differences in the serratures or teeth on the margin of the leaf; in varieties without glands, the leaves are deeply and very sharply toothed, while if present the serration is crenate, the teeth being rounded and shallower; the glands are globose or reniform (kidney-shaped), each form being constant in the same variety.
The flowers, which appear before the leaves and from separate scaly buds, have the general structure of those in this section of the rose family; the deciduous calyx has a short bell-shaped tube, with five spreading lobes; the five petals, inserted on the throat of the' calyx tube, are spreading and usually rose-colored, varying considerably in size in the cultivated varieties; stamens numerous, with slender filaments, and inserted with the petals; pistil solitary, free, with a single style, the ovary containing two ovules, only one of which is usually developed into a seed. The fruit is of that kind called a drupe or stone fruit; its theoretical structure is that the cells of the carpellary leaf composing the pistil take on, as the fruit grows, two very distinct forms of development; the outer portion, corresponding to the under side of the leaf, becomes fleshy, and when ripe very soft and succulent, while in the inner portion the cells of the upper side of the carpellary leaf become at length filled with an indurating matter, and ultimately form the hard, nut-like body known as the stone.
The peach stone is not the seed proper, but a portion of the pericarp or seed vessel; technically, the fleshy part of the peach is the sarcocarp, and the inner the putamen; in some peaches these two parts when ripe are readily separable, such being called freestones, while in others the two are firmly held together, and these are known as clingstones. The stones of the different varieties differ much in their relative length and breadth, and some are terminated by a long sharp point; the suture, where the two halves of the stone join, varies in prominence, and the irregular pits or furrows with which the surface of the stone is marked are deeper in some varieties than in others; the name amygdalus is from the Greek word , to lacerate, in reference to these markings upon the stone; all these characters of the stone are of use to the pomologist in distinguishing varieties. Within the stone are usually found a single seed and the remains of an abortive ovule, though it sometimes occurs that both ovules are fertilized, as "double-meated" stones are not rare among both peaches and almonds. The seed proper, or meat as it is popularly called, has a very strong flavor of the bitter almond, and like that is accompanied by prussic acid; the same flavor is perceptible in the leaves. - As a fruit the peach is everywhere held in high esteem, but is nowhere so largely cultivated as in this country, which, is said to be the only one in which it is within reach of the poorer classes. The tree comes into bearing in a very few years from the seed, instances being known in which fruit has been borne the second year, or in 16 months from the planting of the stone; some varieties come very true from the seed, but, as is usual with fruits which have been long in cultivation, the seedling often produces fruit unlike that of the parent tree; the short time required to test the quality of seedlings leads to a great increase of the number of varieties, and there are all over the country local kinds of quite as good quality as those admitted into the catalogues and fruit lists.
In Downing's " Fruits " (1869) there are enumerated over 130 varieties, and the catalogues of nurserymen include a number not in this work; indeed, new varieties are constantly appearing for which some peculiar excellence is claimed. Some of our standard varieties are of European origin and have been long in cultivation, but the majority have originated in this country; while some will succeed wherever peaches will grow at all, others are only suited to particular localities. In a pomological classification peaches are divided into freestones (also called melt-ers) and clingstones; these divisions are subdivided into two classes, the white or light-colored, and the yellow-fleshed. These classes each present three sections: 1,.those without glands at the base of the leaf and with sharp serratures; 2, with globose glands and blunt serratures; and 3, having kidney-shaped glands and blunt serratures. To the peach grower the time of ripening is of more importance than any other character, and one largely engaged in cultivating will endeavor to have a selection of sorts ripening continuously from the beginning to the end of the season, and this selection will vary according to locality.
The earliest varieties are early Beatrice (English) and Hale's early (American); among the latest are Smock, Stump the World,, and Ward's late (all American); among the intermediate varieties generally popular are early York, Troth's early, Oldmixon, Crawford's early, Crawford's late, red rare ripe, Morris white, etc. The great peach region of the eastern states includes the state of Delaware and the counties of Maryland and Virginia bordering on the Chesapeake bay; though some fruit is sent from further south, this region supplies the great bulk of the peaches sold in northern markets; in good seasons, between three and four millions of baskets, or their equivalent in crates, are sent from this district, while immense quantities are used at home for canning, distilling, and drying; the orchards range all the way from 1,000 or 2,000 trees up to 600 acres entirely devoted to peaches. But few peaches are now produced in New Jersey in comparison with 20 years ago. Another celebrated peach district is on the lake shore of Michigan, which, though so far north, has its climate modified by the proximity of large bodies of water, and produces profitable crops which find a ready market in Chicago, Detroit, and other western cities.
Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and other states also produce large quantities of the fruit, and in California the production is immense. - In establishing an orchard, the planter purchases his trees from a nursery, or, as is the custom in large orchards, produces them himself. The stocks are raised from seeds, those being preferred from what are called natural fruit; in Virginia and other states there are old orchards of seedling fruit (i. e.., the trees of which have never been budded) and stocks raised from the seeds of such trees are regarded as more free from disease than from those of finer varieties. The seeds must be exposed to the influence of the weather during winter, the most common method being to spread them in the autumn in a layer 3 in. thick and spade them under; some cover them with several inches of tan bark or saw dust; in spring, the soil for the nursery being prepared and laid out in furrows about 4 ft. apart and 2 in. deep, the seeds are taken from the seed bed and the earth sifted from them; most of them will then have their shells so loosened that they may be removed by the fingers; those which remain firm are cracked with a hammer, and the kernels dropped 2 1/2 in. apart in the furrows and covered.
The young trees soon appear, and are kept free from weeds till August or September, when they are budded with the desired variety; budding is done very rapidly, 2,000 buds being a fair day's work, and some very expert hands will put in 3,000. The following spring, as soon as vegetation starts, the stocks are cut off above the bud, and all buds that appear on the stock below the one inserted are rubbed off; the soil is well cultivated all the season, at the close of which, when the leaves begin to fall, the trees are ready to be set in the orchard. Planting is done in the autumn or spring; the trees are set 20 ft. apart each way, and the spaces between occupied by corn or some other hoed crop until the trees need the room; during this time the trees have the needed pruning to form their heads; they come into profitable bearing the fourth year after planting, yielding on an average a basket to the tree, though some fruit may be borne the second or even the first year. Picking is done when the fruit is in such a condition that it will be fit for use by the time it reaches the consumer, and it is always hard; a single soft peach will spoil the rest in the basket or crate; from the necessity for picking the fruit before it is fully ripe, the consumer does not get it in perfection, as to be at its best it should come into eating condition on the tree; in the orchards all the best fruit, that which is tree-ripened, goes to the pigs.
Peaches are shipped in baskets holding five eighths of a bushel, or in crates with a partition in the middle, each half of the capacity of a basket; extra choice fruit is "sprigged" by having a leafy branch of the tree at the top of the basket or crate; special trains with cars properly fitted for the traffic are run during the season from the peach centres to New York and Philadelphia. After the crop is off, fertilizers are applied, the ground ploughed, and the trees pruned; a heavy crop often breaks down limbs, which have to be removed. - The canning of peaches is now an immense business; the headquarters are at Baltimore, where the establishments put up oysters in winter and peaches, tomatoes, and other fruits in summer; in some instances owners of large orchards have their own canning establishments on the place. The process of preserving is very simple; the cans are rapidly made by machinery, and have a circular opening at one end for the admission of fruit; the peaches, peeled and halved by hand, are thrown into a hopper from which a spout leads to the floor below; the cans are placed under this spout, and by aid of the fingers rapidly filled; a weak sirup is run into the can to fill all the interstices; then it goes to the solderer, who puts on the circular cover; this has a small hole pricked in it to allow of the escape of the air which is expanded by the heat of the soldering iron; when the edge of the cover is secured, this hole is closed by a touch of solder; a large number of cans are placed on an iron grating and lowered into a vat of water at the bottom of which is a coil of pipe; high-pressure steam is let into this coil, and as the cans heat they are closely watched; if air bubbles are seen to be given off by a can, that is removed as imperfect; the water is raised to boiling, and the cans remain until their contents are heated to this temperature quite through.
Considerable quantities of fruit are dried in various parts of the country by simply exposing it in slices to the heat of the sun; such fruit is always dark-colored and greatly inferior to that prepared in the several patented kinds of drying apparatus, where artificial heat removes the moisture in a few hours. In some orchards the soft and inferior fruit has the juice pressed from it, fermented, and distilled to produce peach brandy; the present excise laws have greatly diminished this manufacture. - Our climate is, except in the northernmost parts of the country, so favorable to the growth of the peach that the training upon walls and trellises, so much practised in Europe, is unnecessary here. By cultivation under glass the fruit may be forced, and those who live north of the limit of successful outdoor culture can enjoy the fruit by growing it in houses without artificial heat; peach houses are very common abroad, and some fine examples exist in this country in the grounds of wealthy proprietors; the trees are usually planted out, but they may be grown in pots or tubs, as the tree is very tractable, and by proper pruning fine specimens about 3 ft. high may be formed, which when loaded with fruit are beautiful objects.- - The peach grower has several enemies to contend with.
The curl is a disease which attacks the young leaves, causing them to swell up and become distorted; it is supposed by some to be due to an aphis or plant louse, but this is very doubtful. It is not nearly so serious as the yellows, which manifests itself in premature ripening, weak growth of shoots, and sickly yellow leaves, and soon causes the death of the tree; it is communicable from one tree to another, and is probably correctly ascribed to a minute fungus; the remedy is to cut and burn the trees on the first appearance of the disease. The curculio, so destructive to the plum, attacks the peach also, and in some localities is a serious drawback; the only remedy is to jar off, catch, and kill the insect. The peach borer is the larva of AEgeria exitiosa, and the most troublesome of all the enemies to the tree; the perfect insect, though it has much the appearance of a wasp, is a moth; the female is dark blue, the under wings transparent and with an orange-colored band across the abdomen; she deposits her eggs upon the bark of the tree near the ground, beginning in the middle of June and sometimes appearing all summer; the young larva makes its way into the tree and lives upon the new wood, to which it is very destructive; it undergoes its transformations and comes out the next spring as a perfect insect; the presence of the borer is indicated by an exudation of gum from the wound, and the only remedy is to cut or dig it out; in the orchards the hands, after picking is over, are set at "worming," or searching for and killing borers.
A frequent cause of failure in the peach crop is one against which no precautions can avail - the destruction of the flower buds by intense cold during the winter; spring frosts, unless at flowering time, do but little injury. The peach tree is remarkably excitable, and a warm spell, such as frequently occurs in winter, will awaken the vegetative powers sufficiently to cause the buds to swell, though but slightly; if under these conditions a sudden change takes place, and, as sometimes happens, the temperature goes below zero, the fruit buds are quite sure to be killed. - There are a number of ornamental varieties of the peach, among the best known of which are several double sorts which produce a profusion of flowers as double as roses; one of these, the camellia-flowered, is especially beautiful; some of them bear fruit of an indifferent quality. The dwarf varieties are curious, producing fruit when one or two feet high; one of these, the golden dwarf, originated in Georgia, another is Italian, and others are Australian. The weeping peach originated with the late William Reid of Elizabeth, N. J., and bears his name; when grafted on a plum stock 6 ft. high, its branches hang down like those of a weeping willow, and it makes a handsome lawn tree; it produces an abundance of fruit, which however is fit only for cooking; the seedlings are said to show the same pendulous habit.
A blood-leaved or purple-leaved variety of the peaoh is very showy in spring, but the leaves do not retain their dark purple color through the summer. The peen-to, or flat peach of China, has its fruit so singularly compressed that the two ends of the stone are only covered by the skin, the flesh being all at the sides. Another curiosity from China is the crooked peach, in which the fruit is long and crooked, and remarkably sweet.
Peach Tree (Amygdalus Persica).
Peach Stem - Leaf and Flower Buds.
Fruit oi Peach.
Peach, in Section.