Apricots originated on the Russian-Chinese border in about 3000 BC and were imported along with peach seed into Europe through the “Silk Road” that extended camelback trading to the Mideast. The fruit grows as an escaped naturalized plant along modern roadsides in Turkey and Armenia today in abundant numbers. Apricots were known in ancient Greece in 60 BC and later introduced into the Roman Empire. The apricot trees are believed to have arrived in the early American colonies in seed form for growing into fruit trees by the French explorers of the 1700’s in Gulf regions and in the Eastern United States and at California monasteries by Spanish explorers and missionaries.
The apricot, Prunus armeniaca L., has a distinctive taste and no other fruit has a flavor to match it. Fresh apricots picked directly from the trees are delicious, if a person is fortunate enough to live close to an apricot tree orchard. Canners of the apricot fruit have supplied national markets reliably with tasty tree-ripened apricots. The most important market for apricot fruit developed from the exceptional quality, when the aromatic apricot is dried.
The apricot tree is beautiful in the landscape and can grow to a large size and to a great age, as the massive root system extends in giant growth explosions each year, growing further from the trunk. The apricot tree is very healthy and vigorous and appears to be resistant to most disease and insect problems, as it produces more and more substantial crops of fruit each year as the tree matures. The apricot tree can be grown in extensive areas of the Eastern and Central United States and were well northward; however, the cold hardiness of the tree itself is verifiable, but early frosts can damage the fruit.
Eating the pits of apricots has become a controversial topic in national health debates and law enforcement. Various groups have promoted an extract, laetrile, of almond pits as being a cancer cure; however, a number of people have died from the deadly poison, cyanide, including the famous actor Steve McQueen. The American Cancer Society states that the cure won’t work, and the selling of these substances has been declared illegal, and some of the advocates were arrested and jailed. Other promoters of these products have fled to Mexico to promote the toxins there by mailorder and personal appointments.
Apricot trees normally are reduced in height to 12 feet by pruning, but the trees can grow to 45 feet at maturity. The apricot trees are best known as fruit producing trees, but a recent national market for flowering trees, Prunus mume, has rapidly developed, because of the abundant white, pink, or red flowers that can appear as early as the winter in some in some areas of the United States. The trees should be planted for growing, 20 to 25 feet apart, further apart than peach trees.
A number of flowering apricot trees, Prunus mume, are available commercially, the ‘Matsubara Red’ that blooms in late winter with double dark-red apricot flowers; ‘Peggy Clarke’ early rose red flowering in spring; ‘Rosemary Clarke,’ flowering white in early spring and Weeping Apricot ‘W.B. Clarke’ pink flowering in January.
The fruit of the apricot is round with a prominent rib on the side, varying in color from yellow to orange, and a reddish random overlay. The pulp is usually yellow, but some apricot cultivars may be white. A large grafted apricot tree may bear a few fruits the first year, but most trees begin to bear when two years old. Some orchadists thin out the apricot fruits to every six inches to increase the individual fruit size, and harvesting mature apricot trees, begins in May and concludes in July.
The apricot fruit has a short shelf-life in grocery stores of 1 to 2 weeks, and the healthy benefits of apricots are many—from Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin C, Niacin, to the minerals Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, and Iron. The most important cultivars of apricots are Blenheim (Royal), Tilton, Perfection, Moorpark, and Early Golden. California grows 94% of the United States apricots and Turkey grows 21% of the world commercial supply.
Luther Burbank, the famous botanist and plant hybridizer wrote in his book Fruit Improvement in 121 a chapter that discussed the hybridization of plumcot, a cross between the apricot Prunus armeniaca and the Plum Prunus.
Several hybrids resulted from these crosses that contained the blending of the general characteristics of both fruits. Some hybrids offspring had characteristics directed more toward the apricot fruit, and other hybrids were inclined toward the plum parent. Several “plumcots” have been made available to the backyard gardener market that demonstrate great cold hardiness, juiciness, and a rich, sweet flavor.
Recent hybrids of apricots have appread, the “aprium” that is 75% apricot and 25% plum; the “pluot” that is 75% plum and 25% apricot, and the “plumcot” that is 50% of each parent.