The prunus genus is a good example of how regionally adapted fruit could provide a sustainable alternative when marketed through a regional food distribution system with a short supply chain. Stone fruits including plums, peaches, apricots and to some extent cherries, all have a short optimal harvest period for maximum nutrient expression and handling ability.
Compared to other common tree fruits, cultivar choices for P. cerasus are limited, but those that are available are hardy, adaptable and self-fertile, which limits the need for additional cultivar selection. The gold standard for the tart cherry processing industry continues to be ‘Montmorency’, which was selected in Montmorency, France, more than 400 years ago.
These are often listed as tart cherries, but are actually a cross between tart and sweet cherries and exhibit characteristics of both. The ripening period and sweetness are intermediate between sweet and tart cherries. Fruit bud hardiness, chilling requirements and pest resistance also seem to be between sweet and tart cherries. Both Erdi cultivars are vigorous, semi-dwarf trees that produce at least some fruit annually (unlike the sweet cherry cultivars), but they have never produced what could be called an abundant crop at Carandale Farm.
Sweet cherries have a shorter chilling requirement than tart cherries, making them more susceptible to over-wintering fruit bud damage. They also bloom earlier, making them more susceptible to crop loss due to late spring freezes. Most are not self-fertile and have specific cross-pollination requirements. They are also more susceptible to insect and disease damage. Despite these shortcomings, sweet cherries are an economically profitable crop when site conditions are favorable.
Carmine Jewel appears to have all the attributes to contribute ecological and economic sustainability to an integrated cropping system. It is a hybrid cherry developed and released from a breeding program in Canada.The hybrid cross between pie cherries (P. cerasus) and dwarf ground cherry (P. fruiticosa) is the parentage for this very cold hardy bush cherry.
The food value of this widespread native cherry was not lost on Native Americans. Remnants found at archeological sites in the Dakotas show it was used extensively for a long time. European settlers adapted the use of chokecherries for jam, jelly, wine and syrup. Chokecherries are high in antioxidant pigments (anthocyanins), a characteristic they share with the unrelated chokeberry (Aronia).
Nanking Cherry was introduced to North America in 1882. Pomologists in that era spoke highly of this plant’s potential. It was featured in the Yearbook of Agriculture 1937 as a plant with unusual opportunities in plant breeding. Like many uncommon fruit, the genetic potential has remained untapped, probably because it did not fit requirements in a globalized marketing system reliant on long supply chains.
Selected and introduced by E.M. Meader of the University of New Hampshire, these hybrid cherries have similar characteristics. They all ripen in late August and early September, with the potential to extend the tart cherry season. They have a distinctive flavor that is somewhat of an acquired taste but could be enjoyed as a fresh fruit.
Sand cherry appears to be an easy plant to grow and could serve as a good insectary plant to attract beneficial insects that would benefit other plants in an integrated system. There was not enough information or observation time to determine its potential economic contribution.
Plums are by far the most diverse of all the Prunus species and could be the most diverse of all deciduous fruit crop species. Native species of plums exist in nearly every temperate climate zone in the world where there is sufficient chilling to break dormancy. With diverse genetic material, plums are the ideal species to play a central role as a fresh fruit for local/regional marketing systems.