March 31, 2004: The
USDA's Agriculture Research Service has highlighted
four new high-value plants for growers to consider when
they are planning this year’s crop line-up. New
varieties of peppers plants add ornamentation and variety
to a farmers market display while, a new grape variety
has the potential to thrive outside California grape
region and a new apricot tree plants and ripens early
giving growers access to a market that traditionally
opens much later in the season.
Pepper Plants Developed
Pepper plants not only produce tasty garden vegetables,
but also can be just plain pretty. Scientists with the
Agricultural Research Service have bred a new duo of
ornamental peppers for the home and garden.
Tangerine Dream, the first of the new pair of peppers
from ARS, is already available commercially. The plant
produces small, orange, banana-shaped edible fruit on
a prostrate plant and makes an attractive ground cover
for the garden.
A second variety, to be released this summer, also
features novel fruit and foliage that should appeal
to the same market as the popular black-leaved sweet
ARS plant geneticists John Stommel and Robert Griesbach
were drawn to the idea of developing these new colorful
ornamentals for the garden and the house because considerable
diversity exists in the Capsicum (pepper) genus for
fruit and leaf shape, size and color. Stommel is with
the agency's Vegetable Laboratory, and Griesbach is
with the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit, both
part of ARS's Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural
Research Center in Beltsville, Md.
The new varieties were developed jointly with the Pan
American Seed Co. of Elburn, IL. Additional research
and development of more new varieties continues with
McCorkle Nurseries Inc., of Dearing, Ga.
Ornamental peppers have become a profitable crop for
house plant growers as well as an alternative for home
gardeners. The ornamental plant market in the United
States is worth nearly $5 billion annually.
Grape: New Variety Available
A sweet, colorful red seedless grape called "Sweet
Scarlet" has a surprise inside: The crisp flesh
of this new grape has a light, pleasant, muscat flavor,
an unusual treat that gives this grape a different taste
than most red seedless varieties. Developed by the Agricultural
Research Service (ARS), the new grape also has another
distinctive feature: its attractive, raspberry-red skin
is a brighter color than that of other midseason, fresh
Ready to harvest in late August, Sweet Scarlet resulted
from more than a decade of grape breeding and testing
by ARS horticulturist David W. Ramming and technician
Ronald E. Tarailo. The grape joins a series of top-quality
red, white and black seedless grapes developed by this
Ramming and Tarailo are with the Postharvest Quality
and Genetics Research Unit, located in central California
at the ARS San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences
Center in Parlier. Sweet Scarlet grapes could start
showing up in supermarkets within three to four years,
according to Ramming.
Sweet Scarlet is the offspring of two ARS-developed
parent seedless grapes. Though developed and tested
in California, where most of the nation's fresh grapes
are grown, Sweet Scarlet may also be suitable for planting
in other locations where Vitis vinifera grapes can be
Most grapes produced commercially in the United States
are varieties of V. vinifera.
The California Table Grape Commission in Fresno, Calif.,
is the exclusive licensee for Sweet Scarlet, handling
its distribution to nurseries.
The average American eats about seven to eight pounds
of fresh grapes in a year. Fresh grapes are a good source
of phytonutrients, healthful compounds that may protect
against cancer and heart disease. Also, fresh grapes
provide potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and thiamin.
Trees Take Root at Fruit
In the rich, fertile soil of California's central valley,
some 8,000 young, newly planted Apache apricot trees
are taking root, making the change from treefruit nursery
to commercial apricot orchard. The number of Apache
trees in California fruit ranches is impressive because
Apache is a new variety that Agricultural Research Service
scientists have only made available to nurseries, researchers
and apricot breeders within the past two years.
Growers are bringing Apache into their orchards because
it ripens early, about the first week of May. That means
it may command the premium, early-season prices that
apricot aficionados are willing to pay for the first
of the long-awaited fruit.
By summer 2006, the new trees should be heavy with
sweet, delicious fruit, ready to harvest and ship to
supermarkets. It should arrive in good shape, because
Apache ships and stores well.
Apache is the result of more than a decade of fruit
breeding and testing by ARS geneticist Craig A. Ledbetter
and technician Louis Vuittonet of the agency's Postharvest
Quality and Genetics Research Unit. The unit is part
of the San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center
at Parlier, Calif.
Apache apricots are about average in size, with a delicate
flavor and pleasing aroma. The fruit has an attractive,
pinkish-orange skin, with smooth, finely textured orange
flesh that's easy to separate from the small stone,
The pollen that Apache needs in order to form its delectable
fruit can be carried by bees or breezes to its blossoms
from nearby "pollinator" apricot trees such
as the well-known Castlebrite or Katy varieties. But
Ledbetter and Vuittonet are in the final stages of testing
a promising new pollinator variety that not only is
a good biological match for Apache, but also yields
excellent fruit of its own about two weeks after the
Apache harvest ends. The new apricot variety might be
ready to release to breeders and nurseries in a year
or two, according to Ledbetter.