30 April 2014

Peach trees in flower in the Tunisian countryside

This beautiful photograph was taken in the Tunisian countryside in late March.  The peach trees were in blossom and the flowers were a gorgeous pink or pale magenta colour.  The countryside was looking at its best lush and verdant with different hues of green.

Although its botanical name Prunus persica refers to Persia (present Iran) from where it came to Europe, genetic studies suggest peaches originated in China, where they have been cultivated since the early days of Chinese culture, circa 2000 BC.  Peaches were mentioned in Chinese writings as far back as the 10th century BC and were a favoured fruit of kings and emperors. As of late, the history of cultivation of peaches in China has been extensively reviewed citing numerous original manuscripts dating back to 1100 BC.

The peach was brought to India and Western Asia in ancient times.  Peach cultivation also went from China, through Persia, and reached Greece by 300 BC.  Alexander the Great introduced the fruit into Europe after he conquered the Persians.  Peaches were well known to the Romans in first century AD, and was cultivated widely in Emilia-Romagna. Peach trees are portrayed in the wall paintings of the towns destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD, with the oldest artistic representations of peach fruit, discovered so far, are in the two fragments of wall paintings, dated back to the 1st century AD, in Herculaneum, now preserved in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

Peach was brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, and eventually made it to England and France in the 17th century, where it was a prized and expensive treat. The horticulturist George Minifie supposedly brought the first peaches from England to its North American colonies in the early 17th century, planting them at his Estate of Buckland in Virginia. Although Thomas Jefferson had peach trees at Monticello, United States farmers did not begin commercial production until the 19th century in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia and finally Virginia.

Peach flower, fruit, seed and leaves as illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885).
The above image by Otto Wilhelm Thomé is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

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