Prunus besseyi -- the western sandcherry. Used
for lo these hundred years
as a rootstock for peaches, the sharpshooter's dream. Most of the catalogs for backyarders carry "Dwarf Peach Trees". Consider the
1. Nurseryman fall-plants 1500 pits of P. besseyi.
2. 1000 pits germinate and make buddable liners.
3. Liners are budded in August, cut back in March, varietal buds sprout in
4. Come August, nurseryman begins to notice marked reddening of the shoots
and slowing growth on perhaps 25% of the budlings.
5. Fall arrives, leaves fall, and 400 of the trees have bright red
shoots. It's digging time; 100 of these 1000 beautiful peach trees break
at the union during digging. Now 900 go into the packing house (most of the
400 are, perversely, still intact).
6. Orders pour in for Dwarf Peach Trees. Only $23.95 this year, folks!!
7. 900 Dwarf Peach Trees go out to Alabama, Alaska, and even Indiana.
Gardeners plant, pant, get the ice cream ready.
8. On our 400 reddies, we have profusion of bloom this first season. The
greedy let the fruit stay on the trees. 100 of these blooming reddies curl up toes in June;
100 in July; the rest succumb after giving a tantalizing vision of fuzzy
fruit to come.
9. Now we still have 500 Dwarf Peach Trees. Autumn arrives; snow; spring
at last. Every tree is blooming; oh how wonderful is spring! June; July;
August: 6 big beautiful Elbertas on this wondeful Dwarf Peach Tree! Tell it to
the neighbors. Brag at the coffee klatch. Be sure to tell NAFEX.
10. Year three: 17 peaches, and let's invite the neighbors for peach
11. Year four: ah, yes, the moment of truth has arrived. Trees all bloom;
promise of bountiful harvest; order a bigger freezer, bigger ice cream
churn. June; July; but growth has stopped. Leaves small; almost seem to
shrink each morning. Suddenly, collapse. No peach sundae this year.
12. The gardener's responses:
a. That was a wonderful Dwarf Peach Tree;
b. I wonder how I killed it?
c. I'll order four Dwarf Peach Trees for next spring.
Well, it isn't a fairy tale. Peaches on P. besseyi exhibit either
immediate incompatibility, expressed in the nursery and in first orchard
summer, or delayed incompatibility, usually during the 3rd or 4th cropping
year. Rather fewer than 5% of peaches on P. besseyi do survive to 10 years; most of
these survivors, however, are not dwarfed very much. I do think it should be
possible to select within that <5%, though, propagating by cuttings, and
eventually come up with useful dwarfing stock.
Two last comments --
1. 'Citation', Floyd Zaiger's interspecific hybrid, still merits
consideration. The trees on Citation that were in the 1984 NC-140 trials
were virus-infected, which likely had considerable effect on outcome. No
question about the extreme dwarfing. We were not happy with fruit quality,
but maybe that was related to the virus infection. I was more concerned that trees on
Citation terminated growth and went into full dormancy very early, then apparently saw chilling requirement satisfied very early, and were ready for active growth a month before anything else.
2. 'Pumiselect' is being introduced now. It's been knocking around
Germany for about 20 years now, a clonal selection of P. pumila, the eastern
sandcherry. We've found it an extremely difficult nursery subject, but that
may be related to our brown thumb. The one planting I saw in Germany a few
years ago was mighty impressive.
Personally, I'll continue to prefer Lovell or Bailey until I see more
at the end of the tunnel.