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In praise of discovery and the spirit of sharing

June 24, 2016

Recently at Oikos Tree Crops we have been reflecting on some inspiring stories of plants and people we admire for various reasons. Here are three short stories we think you will enjoy.

Mirabelle Plums represent one of the most widely distributed and highly coveted plums throughout the world. Part of the mystique is its label as an ‘illegal’ plum with a Protected Geographical Indication, meaning the fruit is protected in the French region of Lorraine.

Despite the PGI, Mirabelle can also be found in Spain, Germany, England, Austria and the Czech Republic where it is thought to have been distributed long ago from Turkey. Primarily, the plant was distributed by seeds and was carried by those ‘in the know’ about its delicious nature. It has made its way to the U.S. several times, but has never caught on as a ‘tart’ plum. However, Cornell University had a breeding program and released a few selections.

In our 30-year-old seedling planting, Mirabelles are a mix of mostly red fruited types or red overlaid on yellow. The tartness combined with the cherry-like flavor make it an ideal plum for jam, jelly, pies and preserves. It is relatively free of insects and diseases. The trees tend to fade after 30 years but new root sprouts can be trained as new trees. It does not spread by stolons or by seeds on its own.  This is the first year these plums are currently being produced as seedlings from our planting. We are excited to offer this special (and delicious) plum tree in fall 2016.

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In 2008, Ericka Dana returned from a trip to care for her mother, whose health was failing due to a rare, terminal illness she’d fought for decades. She was met by 3 generations of her native peach trees in full bloom. That year, the floods in Iowa kept her from going back to say goodbye, and her mother passed away. In her mom’s honor, Ericka planted a special bunch of peach seeds. The seeds were of doubtful viability, and the floods made planting conditions less than ideal. Lo and behold, the seeds grew with vigor. To Ericka, it’s a symbol of hope against hope as the trees continue to grow. She feels the “never give up” spirit of her mom embodied in that little grove of peach trees.

Ericka’s Iowa-Indian White Freestone Peach is a native heirloom variety that had nearly disappeared when she planted her first 3 seeds in 1997. As her online description says, “Those that remember them from their grandparents’ farms are thrilled to find them again.” Ericka and husband Rich are the owners of Catnip Farm. Her legacy project peach seeds can be found here. We will offer trees in fall 2016 at Oikos Tree Crops.

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Much of what we know about native grapes today can be attributed to T.V. Munson, a famed viticulturist who dedicated his life to collecting and documenting American grape species, mostly for the purposes of wine-making. The man behind the plants is equally interesting. Munson was a leader in the Freethought movement and was inspired by its ideals. Freethinkers are defined as people who form their own ideas about the world around them as opposed to relying on authority, tradition or other dogma. These ideas translated to Munson’s work, who created hundreds of named cultivars despite many experimental failures.

Others also benefited from his experiments. His work of breeding disease-resistant grapes for wine helped European grape-growers recover the losses of many of their plants due to grape phylloxera in the late 19th century. Munson is also credited with creating an early version of the helicopter and several other inventions. In the spirit of discovery and sharing, Oikos Tree Crops is happy to offer a cross of the Vitis champinii and Concord grape (pictured above), available in fall 2016.

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