The Apricot (Prunus armeniaca, "Armenian plum" in Latin, syn. Armeniaca vulgaris Lam."Tsiran" in Armenian) is a species of Prunus, classified with the plum in the subgenus Prunus. The native range is somewhat uncertain due to its extensive prehistoric cultivation, but most likely in northern and western China and Central Asia, possibly also Korea and Japan.
It is a small tree, 8–12 m tall, with a trunk up to 40 cm diameter and a dense, spreading canopy. The leaves are ovate, 5–9 cm long and 4–8 cm wide, with a rounded base, a pointed tip and a finely serrated margin. The flowers are 2–4.5 cm diameter, with five white to pinkish petals; they are produced singly or in pairs in early spring before the leaves. The fruit is a drupe similar to a small peach, 1.5–2.5 cm diameter (larger in some modern cultivars), from yellow to orange, often tinged red on the side most exposed to the sun; its surface is usually pubescent. The single seed is enclosed in a hard stony shell, often called a "stone", with a grainy, smooth texture except for three ridges running down one side.
Apricots have been cultivated in Persia since antiquity, and dried ones were an important commodity on Persian trade routes. Apricots remain an important fruit in modern-day Iran where they are known under the common name of Zard-ālū (Persian زردالو).
Egyptians usually dry apricot and sweeten it then use it to make a drink called "'amar al-dīn".
More recently, English settlers brought the apricot to the English colonies in the New World. Most of modern American production of apricots comes from the seedlings carried to the west coast by Spanish missionaries. Almost all U.S. production is in California, with some in Washington and Utah..
Many apricots are also cultivated in Australia, particularly South Australia where they are commonly grown in the region known as the Riverland and in a small town called Mypolonga in the Lower Murray region of the state. In states other than South Australia apricots are still grown, particularly in Tasmania and western Victoria and southwest New South Wales, but they are less common than in South Australia.
Although often thought of as a "subtropical" fruit, this is actually false - the Apricot is native to a continental climate region with cold winters, although can grow in Mediterranean climates very well. The tree is slightly more cold-hardy than the peach, tolerating winter temperatures as cold as −30 °C or lower if healthy. The limiting factor in apricot culture is spring frosts: They tend to flower very early, around the time of the vernal equinox even in northern locations like the Great Lakes region, meaning spring frost often kills the flowers. Furthermore, the trees are sensitive to temperature changes during the winter season. In their native China, winters can be very cold, but temperatures tend to be more stable than in Europe and especially North America, where large temperature swings can occur in winter. The trees do need some winter cold (even if minimal) to bear and grow properly and do well in Mediterranean climate locations since spring frosts are less severe but there is some cool winter weather to allow a proper dormancy. The dry climate of these areas is best for good fruit production. Hybridisation with the closely related Prunus sibirica (Siberian Apricot; hardy to −50°C but with less palatable fruit) offers options for breeding more cold-tolerant plants.
Apricot cultivars are most often grafted on plum or peach rootstocks. A cutting of an existing apricot plant provides the fruit characteristics such as flavour, size, etc., but the rootstock provides the growth characteristics of the plant. Apricots and plums can hybridize with each other and produce fruit that are variously called pluots, plumcots, or apriums.
Apricots have a chilling requirement of 300 to 900 chilling units. They are hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8. Some of the more popular cultivars of apricots include Blenheim, Wenatchee Moorpark, Tilton, and Perfection.
There is an old adage that an apricot tree will not grow far from the mother tree. The implication is that apricots are particular about the soil conditions in which they are grown. They prefer a well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. If fertilizer is needed, as indicated by yellow-green leaves, then 1/4 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer should be applied in the second year. Granular fertilizer should be scattered beneath the branches of the tree. An additional 1/4 pound should be applied for every year of age of the tree in early spring, before growth starts. Apricots are self-compatible and do not require pollinizer trees, with the exception of the 'Moongold' and 'Sungold' cultivars, which can pollinate each other. Apricots are susceptible to numerous bacterial diseases including bacterial canker and blast, bacterial spot and crown gall. They are susceptible to an even longer list of fungal diseases including brown rot, Alternaria spot and fruit rot, and powdery mildew. Other problems for apricots are nematodes and viral diseases, including graft-transmissible problems.
|Top Ten Apricot Producers — 2005|
In Europe, apricots were long considered an aphrodisiac, and were used in this context in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and as an inducer of childbirth, as depicted in John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi.
Due to their high fiber to volume ratio, dried apricots are sometimes used to relieve constipation or induce diarrhea. Effects can be felt after eating as few as three.
Research shows that of any food, apricots possess the highest levels and widest variety of carotenoids . Carotenoids are antioxidants that help prevent heart disease, reduce "bad cholesterol" levels, and protect against cancer . In traditional Chinese medicine, apricots are considered helpful in regenerating body fluids, detoxifying, and quenching thirst.
Some claim that the kernels also have healthy properties, including toning the respiratory system and alleviating a cough . However, the tip of the apricot holds a concentrated amount of the chemical laetrile, which can be upsetting to the system . The tips of the seeds should be removed and consumption should be limited to no more than five a day .
The epithet probably is derived from an etymological identification of a tree mentioned in Pliny with the apricot. Pliny says "We give the name of apples (mala) ... to peaches (persica) and pomegranates (granata) .... Later in the same section he states "The Asiatic peach ripens at the end of autumn, though an early variety (praecocia) ripens in summer - these were discovered within the last thirty years ...."
From this praecocia comes the standard etymology of "apricot". The classical authors connected armeniaca with praecocia: Pedanius Dioscorides' "... Ἀρμενιακὰ, Ῥωμαιστὶ δὲ βρεκόκκια" and Martial's "Armeniaca, et praecocia latine dicuntur". Putting together the Armeniaca and the mala obtains the well-known epithet, but there is no evidence the ancients did it; Armeniaca alone meant the apricot.
Accordingly the American Heritage Dictionary under apricot derives praecocia from praecoquus, "cooked or ripened beforehand", becoming Greek πραικόκιον "apricot" and Arabic al-barqūq "apricot" (although in most of the Arab world the word now means "plum"). The English name comes from earlier "abrecock" in turn from the Middle French abricot, from Catalan abercoc. Both the latter and Spanish albaricoque were adaptations of the Arabic, dating from the Moorish occupation of Spain. However, in Argentina and Chile the word for "apricot" is damasco, which probably indicates that to the Spanish settlers of Argentina the fruit was associated with Damascus in Syria.
The anecdotal evidence is the only link between the apricot and Pliny's tree, but even if true, the origin of the word is not the origin of the tree. The Romans had no idea why the tree was called armeniaca and presumed as did later botanists that it was "from Armenia", whatever that should mean. Scientifically nothing at all about the evolution or production of the wild tree or any of its cultivars or about the native range at the time of the Romans or any other time in history is implied. At best the tradition reflects Roman literary opinion concerning some now obscure horticultural events.
The fact that Apricot season is very short has given rise to the very common Egyptian Arabic expression "fil-mishmish ("in apricot [season]"), generally uttered as a riposte to an unlikely prediction, or as a rash promise to fulfill a request.
In The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion sings, "What puts the ape in the apricot? Courage!"
Among American tank-driving soldiers, apricots are taboo, by superstition. Tankers will not eat apricots, allow apricots onto their vehicles, and often will not even say the word "apricot". This superstition stems from Sherman tank breakdowns purportedly happening in the presence of cans of apricots.
Dreaming of apricots, in English folklore, is said to be good luck.
The Turkish idiom "bundan iyisi Şam'da kayısı" (literally, the only thing better than this is an apricot in Damascus) means "it doesn't get any better than this" and used when something is the very best it can be; like a delicious apricot from Damascus.