National Geographic : 1951 Sep
How Fruit Came to America BY J. R. MAGNESS Director of Horticultural Research, United States Department of Agriculture With 24 Paintings by Else Bostelmann " OHNNY," says the lady of the house, "here's a dollar. Run buy me a can Sof fruit salad,and bring me the change." Johnny knows where to go-the gro cery store around the corner. It doesn't occur to him to ask where the grocer gets fruit salad. But if it should, the grocer, too, would know the answer-from the wholesaler, who, of course, buys it (at a discount) from the packer. Obviously, it's a simple matter to trace a fruit salad back to its source. Or is it? Where did the packer get it? Here the story becomes complicated. Suppose the canned salad contains just a handful of the commonest fruits: part of a pear, a few grapes, half a dozen sweet cherries, a piece of pineapple, and a few slices of peach. At home, Johnny's mother may garnish these with a little fresh apple, grapefruit, or orange. To track just these few to the places where they are grown today would take much travel. The apple is likely to have come from Vir ginia, New York, Washington State, or per haps from the Midwest, near the Great Lakes; the cherries are probably from Oregon or Washington; the grapefruit and orange from Florida or California; the peach, pear, and grapes from the Pacific coastal area; and the pineapple all the way from Hawaii.* Most Fruits Are Newcomers But that is still only half the story. Peaches didn't always grow in California, nor apples in Washington. In fact, 500 years ago-before the first white settlers came only the grape of all these common fruits had ever been seen or heard of in what is now the United States. The rest got here only after toilsome jour neys lasting tens of centuries and starting in the farthest parts of the world. Peaches and oranges came to us from China; it took them about 4,000 years, perhaps longer, to finish the trip (pages 334 and 352). Apples, pears, and sweet cherries first appeared in the fertile, temperate, hilly land around the Black and Caspian Seas (pages 330, 332, 343, and 345); ancient civilizations there and in Europe knew and ate them centuries before Columbus, or anyone else, thought of sailing west to get to India. Grapefruit? Five centuries ago there weren't any. There was, growing in the East Indies, a big, tough fruit, the shaddock. Eventually-sometime in the 1600's-it was to make a long voyage in a trading ship bound for the West Indies. There, by one of those strange tricks of Nature we call mutations, it would turn into a fruit like the one in our salad bowl (page 354). Pineapples started in the Western Hemi sphere;t Columbus found them growing in the West Indies. But even this fruit had moved halfway across the Pacific before it was sent to our fruit salad packer (page 365). The fruits we grow in America, in other words, didn't just spring up here naturally. They had to travel to get here, which, of course, is also natural, since Nature designed fruit especially to travel. Why You Should Not Eat the Apple Core A man, going for a walk, plucks an apple from a tree, munches it as he walks, and then throws away the core. From the man's point of view, eating the meat on the apple is the important part of this operation. To the tree, however, the important parts are that he walked, and that he threw away the core. In the struggle for survival, plants, like animals, have worked out tricks and devices to spread their seed. Or, putting it backward (but more accurately), those plants on which no such device evolved were very likely to die out. Some developed seed pods which open explosively, scattering seeds for yards around. Others, like the dandelion, grew seeds on tiny parachutes which float in the wind; still others evolved seeds which can survive long, wet trips in ocean currents. On fruit plants, however, a different method of propagation evolved. Their seeds were cov ered with a layer of pulp or flesh which at tracted animals and men because it was nourishing or had a pleasant flavor. Often, too, the skin covering the pulp was bright colored and attractive. It is no accident that berries and cherries have been among the most widely distributed plants since prehistoric times. Their fruit was especially suited to birds, which could carry the seed farthest and fastest. At first, men, like the other animals, simply picked and ate the wild fruit, propagating it * See "Because It Rains on Hawaii," by Frederick Simpich, Jr., NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, No vember, 1949. t See "Puya, the Pineapple's Andean Ancestor," by Mulford B. Foster, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1950.