The earliest settlers in the South grew peaches, especially the highly-esteemed 'Spanish Blood'. Commercial culture began in the southern states with the introduction of other types and, by 1900, peach culture was receiving serious attention in many parts of the country. There are 5 races of the peach differing widely in their characteristics. The United States Department of Agriculture introduced many cultivars of the South China race, typified by the 'Peen-to', a flat type well adapted to moderately warm climates. The peach tree has a chilling requirement of a certain number of hours at 45º F (7.22º C) from the time of leaf-fall to the emerging of new buds. This period varies with the race and cultivar from 30 to 1,000 hours. Late in the 1880's, the 'Red Ceylon', which requires no more than 50 hours of chilling, became well-established in southern Florida. In 1904, this cultivar was planted at the agricultural experiment station at Santiago de Las Vegas, Cuba, and was soon being grown all around the Havana area because it was the only peach found suitable to that tropical climate and the local soils.
Fig. 30: The supple branches of the 'Red Ceylon Peach' (Prunus persica) bend to the ground when laden with fruit.
The tree is dwarf, slender and willowy, with deciduous, alternate, slender, pointed leaves; bears pink, 5-petalled flowers on bare branches in January and February, sometimes March, and fruits heavily in April and May. The fruit is oval with a protruding knob at the apex, 2 3/4 in (7 cm) long and 2 3/8 in (6 cm) wide; velvety, green with deep-red blush when ripe. The flesh is mainly white but a rich strawberry-red in the center; tender, juicy, and of excellent, sweet-acid flavor having a slight suggestion of bitter-almond. The stone is free, corrugated and very hard; small in proportion to the size of the fruit. Despite its unattractiveness externally and small dimensions, the 'Red Ceylon' is much-appreciated on close acquaintance. It is peeled, sliced and enjoyed fresh or stewed and can be used for various culinary purposes. The sliced fruit can be frozen in sirup and relished out-of-season as topping on cake or ice cream. In fact, one becomes so partial to this peach that the ordinary commercial peaches, though far more beautiful, seem somewhat rubbery and much less flavorful by comparison.
Two other subtropical cultivars have been successfully grown in southern Florida:
'Saharanpur'a selection from seedlings received in 1969 from the Horticultural Research Institute, Saharanpur, India. The fruit is very similar to that of 'Red Ceylon' except that it lacks the fine red coloration in the center. The seedlings received from India were probably of the selection 'Shabati' reported by Dr. L. B. Singh as having been released in 1950 and widely distributed all over India where winter chilling requirement of 30 to 40 hours could be guaranteed.
'Okinawa'a fruit of superior form but of inferior quality. This cultivar has been valued mainly as a rootstock because of its greater nematode-resistance.
The 'Red Ceylon' peach has been commonly propagated by seed or by grafting. The seeds may take several months to germinate unless cracked which will induce sprouting in 10 to 90 days. The tree grows rapidly and bears in 2 years from seed. It is relatively nematode-resistant and requires little care, but should receive plenty of water for good production.
|Plate XIII: RED CEYLON PEACH, Prunus persica|
In the 1940's and 1950's the 'Red Ceylon' peach was being deservedly promoted as a useful fruit for home gardens. It is impractical for marketing because of the protruding tip which bruises and then spoils readily. Seedlings and grafted plants were being sold by nurseries. Unfortunately, with the advent of the Caribbean fruit fly in 1965, and its rapid spread in southern Florida, interest in peach-growing dwindled, for the peach is a major host of this pest. Marie Neal wrote that, in Hawaii, a type of peach with small fruits having whitish flesh was formerly grown from the lowlands to an altitude of 3,000 ft (900 m), but its cultivation was discouraged because of the prevalence of the Mediterranean fruit fly.
The 'Red Ceylon' and the 'Okinawa' have been used as rootstocks for peaches in central Florida, though such tender rootstocks may make the grafted tree inclined to cold-sensitivity. In 1957, a hybrid between the 'Red Ceylon' and the 'Southland' peach was developed at the University of Florida's Agricultural Experiment Station in Gainesville.
In the past 2 decades there have been continuous efforts to develop low-chilling cultivars for central Florida and also hardier types as a crop replacement for the orange in the northern part of the "Citrus Belt" where severe damage to orange trees occurred in the winter of 1962-1963 and 200,000 bearing trees were killed by freezes in December 1983 and January 1985.
Dr. Ralph Sharpe has been a leader in peach-breeding in this state for many years. Through his research and that of his colleagues, Florida now has a substantial peach industry. The low-chilling, semi -cling-stone 'Floridaprince', requiring only 150 hours below 45º F (7.22º C), was released to nurseries in late 1985.