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1865 Dept. Agriculture Table of Contents]


THE NATIVE FRUITS OF THE FAR WEST.
BY R. 0. THOMPSON, NURSERY HILL, NEBRASKA.

While producing many varieties of fruits by hybridization of those already in cultivation, and the importation of others that seem suited to our soil and climate from abroad, the wild fruits of the far west should receive the attention of those who feel an interest in the horticulture of our country. There are many varieties which, when cultivated, will occupy a prominent place in the pomology of North America.
The wild plum, Prunus americana, P. umbellata, P. chicasa, and some twenty-five other varieties, are found upon the banks of the several Nemahas in this Territory. In early spring the eye can wander over hundreds of acres of these plums, one sheen of white flowers covering the entire landscape; and the air is laden with their sweet, fragrance. They are found with leaves pinnate, doubly serrate, smooth, long, round; smooth above, downy beneath. Trees of straight, trim growth, ten to twenty feet high; others three to four feet, mere shrubs, but each year bearing their loads of delicious fruit. Fruit of all colors and all forms that the prune family assumes—deep red, purple, pink, deep yellow, orange, salmon, blue, green, and others almost white; the green and white varieties are almost invariably shaped like Coe’s Golden Drop; and some of them are much larger in size. The yellow have more the form of Columbia and Washington; the other colors are formed like Purple Gage. All the varieties, except the red and one or two others, part readily from the stone. Where there are such immense groves of these plum trees, and millions of the young fruit set each spring, it must not be supposed that the eternal enemy of the plum, the curculio, is not to be found; here it is that their numbers may be called legion.
Something over four years ago my attention was directed to a thrifty group of these trees, by finding the branches literally loaded with very large fruit, while all others were pretty effectually thinned out by the “little Turk,” The fruit of these same trees has each year, since that time, withstood the attacks of this insect, and the bearing has been equal to many of the cultivated varieties. The skin is tough, not very thick, and may be pared like an apple. The flesh is firm unless very ripe, then melting and juicy. The tree, foliage, and fruit, all show a wide difference from the other native plums of Nebraska, Iowa, or Illinois. Pruning and cultivation improve size and flavor. Scions have been sent to several experienced nurserymen in the eastern States to test their qualities. When grafted upon their own stocks they require very close working, as the bark is quite thin.
As a stock, to bud or graft the plum, apricot, or peach upon, there is no better; as is evidenced by the fact that eastern cultivators, who have tested them, have sent here for their stock for the past two years. Their extreme hardihood, and their free union with the cultivated plums, will make them valuable to the fruit-grower. When grafted upon the: root of this plum in winter, by setting time there is a perfectly smooth callous formed at the junction, as in apple-root grafting. A tree on my grounds, three years from the seed, bore eight hundred perfect blossoms; the same tree was pruned to an even round head, 3½ feet high from the ground.
A variety with greenish white fruit has never ripened but one year in four, the fruit being green and hard when the severest cold of October came on. When picked in the fall, after the hardest frost, before the ground. freezes, and put away like pears, they ripen readily. One tree that_bears a round red plum, a little larger than a cherry, has invariably borne double fruit.
There are three varieties of the gooseberry indigenous to Nebraska. One, the Ribes cynosbati, a variety with prickly fruit, is of no value whatever as a fruit for man; when ripe, even birds seldom disturb it. Two other varieties are found. One bears a berry long, large, and of a deep green color, quality not first-rate. The other has been named the Nebraska prolific gooseberry. It stands two to four feet high; canes thickly set with long thin or slim thorns of a purple color; leaf very much resembling the Lancashire varieties; fruit larger than the Houghton, veined, and of a clear transparent green; nearly round, flattened very little at the ends, and possessing a rich, vinous flavor. Single specimens have been found nearly an inch in diameter. In the past four years I have examined thousands of bushes, and never found mildew upon any of them.
A form of the Rubus occidentalis, called here the Western Black raspberry, grows along our streams and in woodlands; fruit one-third larger than the American Black Cap, where it is cultivated, the canes making a much stronger growth. Specimens sent to Pennsylvania three years ago have borne fruit, and fully sustain its superiority. Rubus strigosus, found in but one locality in northern Iowa, and called the Elisdale raspberry, is a valuable acquisition; fruit very large, bright red, with light bloom, very sweet and rich; canes grow ten to twenty feet in a season; is quite hardy. This was first introduced to my notice by H. A. Terry, of Crescent City, Iowa.

Ribesia—There are three varieties of the currant found wild in Nebraska, none of them being of any size or flavor; but I have four varieties, found in Utah, which will compare in quality with any of the kinds in cultivation. The black and red kinds from there have borne fruit with me one inch in diameter. The white or yellow and the blue are not so large or of as good quality as the former. A lot of seedlings are showing some peculiar forms of hybridization. I received cuttings of the Utah currants from some half dozen sources; only one lot was of any value, and they were improved seedlings selected from about ten thousand plants. All of these mountain currants possess the peculiarity of being adapted to very dry soils, and make heavy crops where our cultivated kinds would scarcely fruit at all.

Grapes.— Vitis labrusca, V. æstivalis, V. cordifolia, and many curious forms of hybridization, are found here in plenty. One or two varieties have been taken from their wild state and cultivated. They possess good wine qualities. The wine, at two years of age, is much the flavor and color of Oporto. All of these grapes are perfectly hardy. There are no varieties here that possess enough good qualities to be called “table grapes.” Some seasons many hundred gallons of the above-named wine are made from the native grape growing wild along all the water-courses. Such wine sells readily at from $2 50 to $3 per gallon.
The leaf and flower of the various forms of our native grapes are a study for the botanist. A few years ago I received a letter from a gentleman of New York, much interested in fruit-growing, concerning a “tree grape,” of which he had been informed by parties who had seen them on the arid plains or in the passes. It would not be out of place to state here that this grape was said to be of enormous size, and to grow upon a small shrub. I have found, by careful search, that no such grape exists there, and that what was probably taken for such, and is equally strange, is a cherry of the size of a well-grown May Duke, very sweet, melting, of rich delicious flavor, nearly oblong, and of a changeable brown purple. This fruit is set in heavy clusters, on long stems, beneath the leaves, and upon a tree never more than one to two feet high! At two years from seed it produces a most bounteous crop of these rich and luscious cherries. It is so hardy here, in N. latitude 40° 39' 43”, that the tips of the branches were not even killed last winter in our coldest weather. It layers as readily as the grape; will grow from cuttings and single eyes. It ripens in September. The fruit, foliage, and growing shoots, all have a waxy or varnished appearance. I have a number of these miniature cherry trees that bore fruit the past season. Had they no other qualities to recommend them than as ornamental shrubs, there would be few finer ones; but add to this a most rich and luscious cherry, and we have a shrub of rare excellence and beauty. Plants of this dwarf mountain cherry will be sent the Department of Agriculture, to test , its quality and adaptability to that soil and climate.

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