What to call these puzzling plums?
Is it a Pluot, plumcot, or interspecific plum?
Interspecific plum, the generic name given to plum/apricot crosses, look like a plum inside and out, though many are much sweeter than conventional varieties.
Interspecific plums have been a real conundrum for much of the industry, says a University of California farm advisor.
Kevin Day, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor, works closely with the state’s stone fruit growers in the areas of cultural practices, production, pruning, and training systems. He’s known for his pragmatic approach. Asked for his views on how interspecific plums have affected the industry, Day said that about 15 to 20 years ago, the top two plum varieties grown and shipped in California were Angelo and Friar. “Today, they’re still the top two varieties.”
There’s more talk these days about the importance of taste and flavor profiles than a few decades ago, he said, but, surprisingly, some of the tried and true varieties are “holding their own.”
Growers in California, as elsewhere, have struggled with low productivity, said Day. “Production has not been consistent with interspecifics. It’s been all over the board, so it’s hard to categorize the impact and successfulness of interspecific plums.
“Those that have invested a lot in interspecific plantings will tell you that they’re the best thing since sliced bread. But many of the more traditional growers still prefer a regular plum over an interspecific.”
Day points to the Black Kat Pluot variety as an example of the industry’s puzzlement over what to do with the category.
Black Kat, trademarked as a Pluot by Zaiger Genetics, Modesto, California, and sold by Dave Wilson Nursery, is large, with dark skin and high soluble solids (Brix of around 20). Day said it looks like a plum, though it has some apricot in its parentage. “But it’s often sold and marketed as a traditional plum. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, the consumer will think it’s a duck.”
He believes that most consumers don’t care if the plum is a Pluot or interspecific. They just want fruit that tastes good.
The industry has had difficulty trying to crack the market with a new type of fruit that often doesn’t look all that new, Day said. “With the Pluot name trademarked, industry and retailers can’t call them all the same. Some are Pluots, some are interspecifics. It’s very confusing to the consumer because all they really see is a plum.”
Acreage and plantings of interspecific plums are only voluntarily reported to the state plum marketing order—not mandatory, like they are for plums. “So, we really don’t know how much acreage of interspecific plum is out there,” Day said.
The California Plum Marketing Board collects assessments on plums, but only voluntarily on interspecific plums, said Gary Van Sickle, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement that administers the Plum Marketing Board. Several years ago, the marketing order approved allowing shippers to label interspecifics as regular plums and also allowed voluntary reporting of interspecific plums.
A review of plum shipment and packout data published by the Tree Fruit Agreement shows about 10 interspecific varieties out of more than 55 plum varieties listed. Van Sickle notes that in the last three years, reported production of interspecifics has been consistent at around 1.5 million boxes annually. Total plum shipments, which include interspecifics, ranged from 12.8 million to 9.4 million boxes for the last three years.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s called an interspecific or regular plum,” said Van Sickle. “What the industry is striving for is better flavor and an eating experience. It’s all about taste and flavor.”
Kingsburg Orchards, a fifth-generation family farm that’s considered the Pluot/interspecific plum king, has invested in the special plums in a big way. The grower-shipper has planted more than 30 varieties of Pluots and interspecifics on some of its 6,000 acres of tree fruit, according to its Web site.
The grower-shipper has developed the Dinosaur Brand fruit program under which several varieties of interspecific plums are sold as “Dinosaur Eggs.” Kingsburg Orchards renamed the Dapple Dandy Pluot developed by Zaiger Genetics, Dinosaur Egg. Popular with kids, the company soon had a lineup of mottled hybrid plums that were all called Dinosaur Egg, regardless of whether it was a Zaiger Pluot or interspecific from another breeder.
Bright, eye-catching graphics are used to grab children’s attention as part of the Dinosaur Brand marketing program. A special Dino101 Web site (www.dino 101.com) features educational and fun activities for children, parents, and teachers.
Kingsburg Orchards has entered into an exclusive agreement with BQ Genetics and Bradford Farms, said Glen Bradford, who now breeds interspecific plums for the Jackson family of Kingsburg Orchards. “They choose which new selection they want to plant and pay production royalties,” Bradford said, adding that he patents the plum as an interspecific with a generic-type name, and Kingsburg gives it a trademarked name.
Family Tree Farms, another California stone fruit grower-shipper growing Pluots and interspecific plums, uses plumcot to describe the plum and apricot hybrid fruit. Nearly 25 plumcot varieties are listed on Family Tree Farms’s Web site.