Prunus (Sturtevant, 1919)

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Sturtevant, Notes on edible plants, 1919
Prunus (Sturtevant, 1919)

Prunus americana Marsh.


Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. This plum is cultivated for its fruit and has a number of varieties. It was, says Pickering, from early times planted by the New England Indians. During the ripening of the fruit, the western Indians live sumptuously and collect quantities for drying.

Prunus amygdalus Stokes.


North Africa and the Orient. The chief distinction between the almond and the peach lies in the fruit, which, in the almond, consists of little more than a stone covered with a thick, dry, wooly skin, while the peach has in addition a rich and luscious flesh. The almond has long been known to cultivation. Those with sweet and bitter kernels were known to the Hebrews and were carried by the Phoenicians to the Hesperian peninsula. The almond was sacred to Cybele, in Greece, where even at that time there were ten kinds, with sweet and with bitter nuts, Phyllis hung herself on an almond tree and was transfigured into it. Cato called it nux Graica and Pliny mentions it. Charlemagne caused amandalarios to be planted on his estate.

Unger deems the tree indigenous to western Asia and north Africa. Pickering ascribes its origin to the Tauro-Caspian countries and others to Barbary, Morocco, Persia and China. Brandis says it is indigenous about Lebanon, Kurdistan and in Turkestan. At the present time, it is distributed over the whole of southern Europe, the Levant, Persia, Arabia, China, Java, Madeira, the Azores and the Canary Islands. As a garden plant, it has existed in England since 1548 certainly. In the United States, certain varieties are deemed hardy in the latitude of New York.

There are many varieties and as many as seven are described by Downing 10 as recommended for culture in America. The more common classification is into sweet and bitter almonds, but De Candolle establishes five groups: the bitter almond, the sweet almond, the sweet almond with a tender shell, the sweet almond with large fruit and the peach almond.

The kernels of the sweet variety are eaten as dessert and are largely used in confectionery and in cooking; those of the bitter almond are used in the preparation of noyau and for flavoring confectionery. Both varieties yield by pressure an odorless, fixed oil which is of an innocent nature. The bitter almond contains a crystalizable substance called amygdalin, which, by the action of the nitrogenous emulsion present, when in contact with water, is converted into a fragrant volatile oil, the essential oil of bitter almonds and prussic acid. The sweet almond contains the emulsion but no amygdalin, hence is not harmful as food. When a tree is raised frcm either variety both bitter and sweet almonds are frequently found borne by the same tree.

Prunus armeniaca Linn.


Caucasus. The native country of the apricot is usually said to be Armenia, Arabia and the higher regions of central Asia. Harlan says the species grows spontaneously in the mountains about Kabul, bearing a yellow, acid and inferior fruit. Erman mentions it as wild in Siberia; Pallas saw it in the Caucasus; Grossier in the mountains to the west of Pekin, China; and Regnier and Sickler assign it to a parallel extending between the Niger and the Atlas. Unger says that Alexander the Great brought the apricot from Armenia to Greece and Epirus, from which countries it reached Italy. It seems not to have been known to the Greeks in the time of Theophrastus but was the mela armeniaca of later authors, as Dioscorides. The apricot was referred to under the name Armeniaca by Columella and Pliny. It is said to have been brought to England from Italy in 1524, but others give its date of introduction 1548. Disraeli says, however, the elder Tradescant in 1620, entered himself on board of a privateer armed against Morocco solely with a view of finding an opportunity of stealing apricots into Britain and it appears that he succeeded.

In the United States, there is no mention of this fruit earlier than 1720, when they were said to be growing abundantly in Virginia. In 1835, there were 17 varieties in Britain. Downing names 26 in his edition of American Fruits of 1866 and the American Pomological Society in 1879. In Ladakh, according to Moorcroft, 10 varieties are cultivated, all raised from seed but one, which is propagated by budding. In Kabul, sorts are grown, according to Harlan. The apricot is cultivated throughout the entire East even to Cashmere and northern India, in China and Japan, northern Africa and southern Europe. About Damascus, it is cultivated extensively and a marmalade is made from the fruit for sale. In the oases of Upper Egypt, the fruit of a variety called musch-musch is dried in large quantities for the purpose of commerce. The fruit in general is roundish, orange or brownish-orange, with a more or less deep orange-colored flesh; the kernel in some sorts is bitter, in others as sweet as a nut. Erdman describes the "wild peach" of Nerchinsk, Siberia, as a true apricot, containing a very agreeable kernel in a fleshless envelope. Harlan describes a variety of Kabul as so especially lucious as to require careful manipulation in gathering, so delicate that if one should fall to the ground, the shape would be destroyed.

Prunus aspera Thunb.

Japan. The blue drupe is eaten.

Prunus avium Linn.


Europe and the Caucasus. This is the species from which sweet cherries have sprung, The wild species is small and of little value for eating. The fruits are employed in Switzerland and Germany in the distillation of a spirit known as kirschwasser. Of the cultivated fruits of this species, more than 75 varieties are described. The fruit is well esteemed, but Hasselquist says the gum may also be eaten and that a hundred men during a siege were kept alive for two months on the gum of the cherry alone. Cherry stones were among the seeds mentioned in 1629 to be sent the Massachusetts Company; they were also planted at Yonkers, N. Y., about 1650, as well as in Rhode Island, and, in 1669. Shrigley says they were cultivated in Virginia and Maryland.

Prunus brigantiaca Vill.


Gallia. The fruit is borne in clusters, is round, yellow and plum-like but is scarcely eatable. In France and Piedmont, the kernels are used to procure the huille des marmottes, an oil considered superior to olive oil.

Prunus buergeriana Miq.

A large tree of Japan. The fruit is small and inferior but is sometimes gathered and pickled in salt, when it is eaten as a condiment or appetizer.

Prunus capollin Zucc.

Mexico. The cherries are of a pleasant taste.

Prunus cerasifera Ehrh.


Turkey and nearby countries. The fruit is round, about an inch in diameter, of a lively red, with little bloom. The flesh is greenish, melting, soft, very juicy, with a pleasant, lively subacid flavor.

Prunus cerasus Linn.


Europe and Orient. More than 50 varieties of this cherry are under cultivation. About Lake Como, Italy, a variety grows abundantly which is a sort of Morello. In Asia Minor, Walsh describes two delicious varieties as growing wild and cultivated in gardens. This cherry is mentioned by Theophrastus, about 300 B. C., and Pliny states that it was brought to Italy by Lucullus after his victory over Mithridates, and he also states that, in less than 120 years after, other lands had cherries even as far as Britain beyond the ocean. Disraeli remarks that "to our shame it must be told that these cherries from the King of Pontus' city of Cerasuntis are not the cherries we are now eating; for the whole race of cherry-trees was lost in the Saxon period and was only restored by the gardener of Henry VIII who brought them from Flanders." Loudon says the Romans had kinds and, in England in 1640, there were 24 sorts. The Red Kentish, referred to this class, was the cherry grown by the Massachusetts colonists.

Prunus chamaecerasus Jacq.

Southern Europe and northern Asia. This cherry is mentioned by Pliny as growing in Macedonia and the fruit is said to be dried and to yield profit to the farm. According to Jacquin, this cherry grows on the Austrian Alps; according to Persoon, it is cultivated.

Prunus chicasa Michx.


Southeastern United States. This plum was seen by De Soto's expedition at or near. New Madrid, where it furnished the natives with food. The tree usually grows from 12 to 20 feet high but Marcy, on the Red River of the South, found it forming small bushes from two to six feet high and bearing very large and sweet fruit varying in color from a light pink to a deep crimson. The fruit varies much and several varieties are in cultivation.

Prunus cocomilia Tenore.


Italy. The fruit is yellow, bitter or sour.

Prunus dasycarpa Ehrh.


Orient. This apricot with dark purple, velvety fruit is cultivated in Kashmir, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and in Europe.

Prunus divaricata Ledeb.

Turkestan. The fruits are red, yellow and black and of the size, form and taste of the Mirabelle plum. According to Capus, the natives collect and dry the fruit but do not cultivate the tree.

Prunus domestica Linn.


Europe and the Caucasus. The common plum came originally, says Unger, from the Caucasus and is cultivated extensively in Syria, where it has passed into numerous varieties. It is now naturalized in Greece and in other regions of temperate Europe. Cultivated varieties, according to Pliny, were brought from Syria into Greece and thence into Italy. Faulken says the plum was introduced from Asia into Europe during the crusades. Gough says the Perdrigon plum was brought into England in the time of Henry VII. Plum stones were among the seeds mentioned in the Memorandum of Mar. 16, 1629, to be sent to the Massachusetts Company. The fruit of the plum ranges through many colors, from black to white, and is covered with a rich, glaucous bloom About 150 varieties appear in the catalogs of American nurserymen. The plum is not only delicious eating, in its best varieties, but the fruit of some is largely used for prunes, and, in Hungary, an excellent brandy is distilled from the fermented juice of the fruit.

Prunus emarginata Walp.


Western North America. The fruit is eaten by the Indians.

Prunus fasciculata A. Gray.


Western North America. Although this fruit is almost devoid of the delicious interior of the cultivated peach, yet it has exactly the appearance and Gray says is its nearest North American relative.

Prunus gracilis Engelm. & Gray.


Texas and Indian Territory. This species is cultivated by the pioneers.

Prunus ilicifolia Walp.


An evergreen of southern California. The fruit of this Prunus is yellowish-pink when ripe, with a pulpy external portion scarcely exceeding a line in thickness. Though the fruit has a pleasant taste, Parry says it would scarcely be considered worth eating in a country which was less destitute of wild fruits.

Prunus incisa Thunb.

Japan. The fruits are eaten.

Prunus insititia Linn.


Europe, Asia Minor and Himalayas. This plum is found wild in the Caucasus and throughout Europe. The fruit is globular, black or white, of an acid taste but not unpleasant, especially when mellowed by frost; it makes a good conserve. A variety with yellow fruit is sold in the London markets under the name of the White Damson, according to Thompson. From this species has come the cultivated damson plums. The damson plum, says Targioni-Tozzetti, was introduced from the East since the day of Cato, who was born 232 B, C. The damson plum was brought into Europe, according to Michaud, by the Duke of Anjou, in the fifth crusade, 1198-1204, from a visit to Jerusalem.

Prunus japonica Thunb.


Japan and China. This plum is much grown in Japan for ornament and for fruit. The plum has a sweet and agreeable flavor.

Prunus jenkinsii Hook. f.

Assam. This Prunus thrives and bears fruit at Gowhatty, India. The fruit is only eatable in tarts or preserved in brandy.

Prunus laurocerasus Linn.


Orient. The cherry laurel is mentioned by Gerarde in 1597 as a choice garden shrub in England. The water distilled from the leaves has been used extensively for flavoring puddings and creams. Sweetmeats and custards flavored with leaves of this plant have occasionally proved fatal on account of the prussic acid, yet they seem to be sometimes used.

Prunus maritima Wangenh.


Eastern North America. The beach plum forms a low bush or small tree on the sea-coast extending from Maine to the Gulf; it seldom ripens its fruit in the interior. This is probably one of the plums mentioned by Edward Winslow, 1621, and by Rev. Francis Higginson, 1629. The fruit is from a half-inch to an inch in diameter, varies from crimson to purple and is agreeable to eat. It is preserved in considerable quantities in Massachusetts. Downing says the plum is red or purple, covered with a bloom, pleasant but somewhat astringent.

Prunus mume Sieb. & Zucc.


Japan. The fruit is hard and sour and as a rule is eaten salted or dried. It is also made into vinegar. This species is cultivated chiefly on account of its blossoms. In China, the blossoms are used for scenting tea.

Prunus padus Linn.


Europe and northern Asia. The fruit is sour, with a slight mawkish, astringent flavor but is much eaten by the Hill People of India. In Sweden and Lapland and some parts of Russia, the bruised fruit is fermented and a spirit is distilled from it. Lightfoot says the black fruit, of the size of grapes, of a nauseous taste, is eaten in Sweden and Kamchatka and is used in brandy in Scotland. The hagberry of Scotland is said by Macgillivray to be small, round, black, harsh and nauseous. De Candolle says a variety occurs with yellow fruit.

Prunus paniculata Thunb.

Japan. This is the Yung-fo of China but cultivated there only for ornament at Canton, where it rarely fruits. This species was introduced into England in 1819. The cherries are said by Knight to be middlesized, reddish-amber in color, very sweet, juicy and excellent. Smith says, in China, its fruit is preserved as a sweetmeat with honey.

Prunus pennsylvanica Linn. f.


Eastern North America. Vasey n says the fruit is sour and unpleasant; Pursh, that it is agreeable to eat; Wood, that it is red and acid.

Prunus persica Stokes.


Orient. The peach was known to Theophrastus, 322 B. C., who speaks of it as a fruit of Persia, but Xenophon, 401 B. C., makes no mention of the peach. The Hebrew books are also without mention and there seems to be no Sanscrit name. The peach seems to have reached Europe at about the commencement of the Christian era. Dioscorides, who flourished about 60 A. D., speaks of the peach, and Pliny, A. D. 79, expressly states that it was imported by the Romans from Persia not long before. He also adds that this tree was brought from Egypt to the Isle of Rhodes, where it could never be made to produce fruit, and thence to Italy. He says it was not then a common fruit in Greece. At this time, from two to five varieties alone were known and the nectarine was unknown. No mention is made of the peach by Cato, 201 B. C., and Columella, 42 A. D., speaks of it as being cultivated in France. In China, De Candolle says its culture dates to a remote antiquity and the Chinese have a multitude of superstitious ideas and legends about the properties of the different varieties, whose number is very large. He also says the peach is mentioned in the books of Confucius, fifth century before Christ, and it is represented in sculpture and on porcelain. Brandis says the cultivation of the peach in China has been traced back to the tenth century, B. C.

The peach is raised with such facility from the stone that its diffusion along routes of communication must necessarily have been very rapid. If its origin is to be ascribed to China, the stones may have been carried with the caravans into Kashmir or Bokhara and Persia between the time of the Sanscrit emigration and the intercourse of the Persians with the Greeks. It is quite possible that the long delay in its diffusion was caused by the inferior quality of the peach in its first deviation over that which it possesses at present. The peach was introduced from China into Cochin China and Japan. Mclntosh says it reached England about the middle of the sixteenth century, probably from France. Peach stones were among the seeds ordered by the Governor and Company for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England in 1629. About 1683, Stacy, writing from New Jersey, said "we have peaches by cart loads." A Description of New Albion, 1648, records, "Peaches better than apricocks by some doe feed Hogs, one man hath ten thousand trees." Hilton says of Florida, 1664, "The country abounds with Grapes, large Figs, and Peaches." William Penn, in a letter dated Aug. 16, 1683, says of Philadelphia, "There are also very good peaches, and in great quantities; not an Indian plantation without them . . . not inferior to any peach you have in England, except the Newington." Beverly mentions the peach as growing abundantly in Virginia in 1720. Colden mentions the peach trees killed by frost in New York in 1737. At Easton, Maryland, Peach Blossom Plantation was established about 1735. So abundantly distributed had peaches become in the middle of the eighteenth century, that Bartram looked upon them as an original American fruit and as growing wild in the greater part of America. Du Pratz, 1758, says: "The natives had doubtless got the peach trees and fig trees from the English colony of Carolina, before the French established themselves in Louisiana. The peaches are of the kind we call Alberges, are of the size of the fist, adhere to the stone and are very juicy." In 1799, the peach trees of the Mogul Indians of New Mexico and Sonora yielded abundantly. In 1649, Norwood, in his Voyage to Virginia, found peach trees in fruit at Fayal. The peach is also abundantly distributed in South America. Darwin writes that the islands near the mouth of the Parana are thickly clothed with peach and orange trees, springing from seeds carried there by the waters of the river.

The nectarine is a peach having a smooth skin. Darwin gives a number of instances where peach trees have produced nectarines and even nectarines and peaches on the same tree. A still more curious case is also given where a nectarine tree produced a fruit half peach, half nectarine and subsequently perfect peaches. Nectarines usually reproduce themselves from seed and always possess their own peculiar flavor and are smooth and small. The varieties run in parallel lines with the peach. The nectarine was unknown at the commencement of the Christian era. The first mention is by Cieza de Leon, who, in 1532-50, described the Caymito of Peru as "large as a nectarine." The nectarine is now found in gardens in Europe and America in numerous varieties. It is mentioned by Beverley n as growing abundantly in Virginia in 1720. Downing describes 19 varieties and mentions others. According to Brandis, the nectarine is found in gardens in northern India, where it is called skuftaloo and moondia aroo, smooth peach, probably introduced from Kabul.

Prunus prostrata Labill.

Mediterranean regions and the Orient. The fruit is eaten.

Prunus puddum Roxb.

Himalayan region. The fruit is acid and astringent, not much eaten or valued. Royle says it is not edible but is employed for making a wellflavored cherry brandy.

Prunus pumila Linn.


Northern United States. The fruit is small, dark red and eatable. In the Indian Territory, every Indian goes to the plum ground in the season to collect the fruit, which is dried and preserved. From Lake Superior to Elk River on the 57th parallel, Richardson found what he took to be this species with very sweet fruit.

Prunus rivularis Scheele.


Texas. This is a small shrub, not uncommon on the Colorado and its tributaries, bearing excellent, red plums in August and September.

Prunus serotina Ehrh.


North America. In Mexico, this cherry is called capuli. Burbridge says the succulent fruit resembles apricots and is sold in Mexican markets under the name of capulinos.

Prunus sibirica Linn.

Siberia. The fruit is small, sour or acid, and contains a bitter kernel.

Prunus simonii Carr.


China. This plum was introduced into America from France. The fruit, though large, handsome and of firm flesh, has little merit.

Prunus sphaerocarpa Sw.

Tropical America. From the seeds, cherry, plum and damson wine is flavored.

Prunus spinosa Linn.


Europe, north Africa, the Orient and now naturalized in the United States. The fruit is like a small plum, nearly glabrous, black, covered with a bluish bloom and has a very austere taste. The fruit is eaten in some districts of northern Europe and with sugar makes a very good conserve. The leaves are used to adulterate tea. The juice of the ripe fruit is said to enter largely into the manufacture of the cheaper kinds of port wine. In France, the unripe fruit is pickled, as a substitute for olives, and, in Germany and Russia, the fruit is crushed, fermented with water and a spirit is distilled from it.

Prunus subcordata Benth.


California. The fruit is large, pleasantly acid and excellent; it is gathered in considerable quantities by both Indians and Whites.

Prunus tomentosa Thunb.

East Asia. This species is a bush or very small tree. The fruit ripens early in the summer, is of cherry size and of good quality. The unripe fruit is also pickled or boiled in honey and is served as a delicacy.

Prunus triflora Roxb.


Burma, China and Japan. This plant is now common in the gardens of India. It is cultivated in China, Japan and now in Europe and America.

Prunus umbellata Ell.


A small tree from Georgia to Florida. The fruit is pleasantly acid and is employed in preserves.

Prunus ursina Kotschy.


Syria. This plum bears sweet, pleasant fruit, the size of a damson and serves as food.

Prunus virginiana Linn.


A tall shrub of North America, seldom a tree, the fruit of which is very austere and astringent until perfectly ripe. The fruit differs much on different plants, being sometimes very austere, sometimes very juicy and pleasant with little astringency. Wood, in his New England's Prospects, mentions choke cherries and says they are very austere and as yet "as wilde as the Indians." Tytler says the fruit is not very edible but forms a desirable addition to pemmican when dried and bruised. The fruit is now much used by the Indians of the West, and the bark is made into a tea and drunk by some of them. The purplish-black or red fruit is sweet and edible but is somewhat astringent.