The peach orchards of the Cherokee, Lenape, Iroquois, and others did not resemble the orchards we are familiar with. Today, all commercial peach orchards are grown with grafted trees: two trees are spliced together, the bottom one with good roots, and the top with good fruits. In this way, a single peach variety can be grafted onto rootstock anywhere in the world. A seedling tree that isn’t grafted, however, will have traits from both of its parents, and will produce a completely different fruit from either. Planting an orchard of seedling trees today would create a population of unique trees with variable quality and disease resistance - something modern agriculture cannot economically cope with. Indigenous peoples throughout eastern North America, however, did plant orchards by the thousands with seedling trees. Even if some of these trees produced inferior fruit, some would also produce peaches of exceptional quality (remember the accounts of peaches with a girth of 13 inches?). In essence, growing peaches from seed didn’t just produce fruit, it could produce superior genetics that would be passed on and planted in new orchards and villages. The East Coast was a massive peach breeding project enacted over centuries by indigenous farmers, and the peaches we have today are often the descendants of these seedlings.
de Soto is also believed to have introduced two species that came to define the Deep Southern wilderness: hogs and peaches. Both rapidly spread, even becoming invasive in the landscape. A few years later, we have records of Spanish missionaries introducing the peach again in Florida and Mexico. Native peoples in the Southeast immediately recognized what we know today: that the peach is a truly wonderful fruit.
Dan Boone wrote:Thank you for starting this thread! I had been meaning to start one about this article since seeing it via one of my other channels a few days ago.
When I saw it I immediately thought of Judith Browning's long-running thread about her beloved peach trees that she calls, among other names, "Cherokee or Indian" peaches. The naming is very suggestive...
Dan Boone wrote:I find myself wondering if anybody is maintaining a library or seed bank of wild peach pit/seed genetics. The wild and feral peaches that do survive must surely be a reservoir of genetics that are most resistant to the insect, bacterial, and other pests that knocked back the invasive forests described in the article, right?
Jocelyn Campbell wrote:I wonder if part of the loss of the diversity is because peaches have shorter lives than some other trees. Someone here, off the cuff, thought they live about 35 years, though several online sources report 10 to 20 years, or even only 12 years as the life for most peach trees.