Good Fruit Grower

July 1

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LAST BITE A series of articles on the origins of well-known fruit varieties. inant plum in the U.S. fresh market, was the first Japanese-type, black-skinned plum. It was released in 1968. In the 1960s, red-skinned plums in California were F standard; black-skinned ones were not thought to have market potential. However, black skin color became popular with the introduction of Friar, because it didn't show bruises, and the cultivar was productive with large fruit. By the mid-1990s, Friar was the leading plum vari- ety grown in California and represented about a quarter of the state's plum production. Weinberger, who died in 1999, was born in New York City but raised on a fruit farm in eastern Pennsylvania. After obtaining his doctorate from the University of Maryland, he first worked in fruit physiology at Beltsville before he began developing new peaches and rootstocks in 1937 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service laboratory in Fort Valley, Georgia. After a transfer in 1954 to USDA's lab in Fresno, California, he expanded his fruit breeding work to include apricots, plums, and table grapes. "Although Weinberger grew relatively few seedlings (about 4,000 total stone fruit per year in Fresno), he had clear goals in mind and a discerning eye to find the best in his material," wrote USDA peach breeder W.R. Okie in an article published in HortScience. "His training in physiology helped him to 'know his organism.'" Weinberger developed the root-knot–resistant rootstock cultivars of Nemaguard and Nemared. One of his more impor- tant apricot selections was the widely grown Castlebrite, an early ripening, firm, and attractive apricot, and he developed many peach and nectarine varieties. In addition to Friar, he bred Blackamber, another black- skinned plum. However, his most influen- tial cultivar was Flame Seedless, the first ARS seedless table grape release. Weinberger retired from ARS in 1973 and he continued as a fruit breeder consultant to Superior Farming and Sun World of Bakersfield, California. He then retired again in 1988. Fruit characteristics Friar resulted from a cross of Gaviota and Nubiana that he made in 1957. Gaviota was a plum bred by Luther Burbank, while Nubiana (Gaviota x Eldorado) was a cultivar released in 1954 by Claron Hesse, breeder at USDA's research station in Davis, California. The skin of Friar is black when fully mature, free of growth cracks, and the flesh amber in color with firm texture. Fruit softens slowly after harvest, and quality is good. Trees are vigorous and productive and suited for growing areas where Japanese-type plums are produced. One of the disadvantages of the dark, large plum was that it was easy to harvest prematurely, resulting in reduced consumer acceptance. Plums that showed some background color were thought to be easier to pick at the proper stage of maturity. Plum noted for its black skin Friar was the leading U.S. plum variety for more than a decade. ruit breeder Dr. John Weinberger gave the name Friar to the plum he developed, because it reminded him of a stout, black- robed friar. The plump, juicy, mild-flavored Friar plum, which would become the predom- Fresh plum production was at its peak in California in the 1990s, when the state had more than 42,000 bearing acres and production was in the 240,000-ton range, according to the California Tree Fruit Agreement. But by 2009, the production area had dropped to 26,600 acres. Friar plum was one of the first black-skinned plums commercially produced for the fresh market in California. The dark skin color didn't show bruises and blemishes as easily as lighter-colored plums. Eventually, overproduction of black-skinned plums led to low prices. Breeders and growers became interested in other plum colors, as well as breeding hybrids of plums and apricots to produce plumcots or the trademarked Pluots. In the span of a decade, from 2000 to 2009, shipments of Friar plums from California dropped from 2.47 million packages to 745,000 packages, making Friar only the second most important variety behind Angeleno's 1.3 million packages. • —Melissa Hansen SOURCES: California Tree Fruit Agreement 2009 Annual Report; "Five Eastern Peach Breeders," W.R. Okie, HortScience Journal; "Plum Breeding Worldwide," W.R. Okie and D.W. Ramming, HortTechnology; "Introgression of Prunus Species in Plum," W.R. Okie, New York Fruit Quarterly; and The Brooks and Olmo Register of Fruit and Nut Varieties. 46 JULY 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Photos courtesy Dave Wilson nursery

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