Prunus armeniaca, the apricot, is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree in the Rosaceae (rose family) native to western Asia and possibly China, where it has been domesticated and cultivated since around 2,000 B.C. for its delicious edible fruit. It is now grown in warm-temperate regions worldwide, but particularly in western Asia, the near East, and the Mediterranean.
Related species that produce fruits referred to as apricots include Prunus mandshurica (from Manchuria, Korea) and P. siberica (from Siberia, Manchuria, and northern China). There is also a purple apricot (P. dasycarpa) and a Japanese apricot (P. mume). The wild apricot, the progenitor of the domestic apricot, which is variously classified as Armeniaca vulgarism or grouped with P. armeniaca, has been classified as endangered, due to declining populations in its native areas of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and China.
Apricot trees are similar in appearance to peach trees (variously classified as P. communis, P. dulcis, or Amygdalus communis). They can grow to 30 m (over 100 ft) but are generally smaller in orchards, with a small, rounded crown, reddish brown twigs, with leaves that are oval to elliptical to rounded to subcordate (nearly heart-shaped), 5 to 7.5 cm (2 to 3 in) long, often pubescent (fuzzy-haired) on the underside around the leaf veins. The flowers, which open before the leaves, are white to pinkish, with 5 petals, around 2.5 cm (1 in) across. The early blooming makes it more susceptible to frost damage than peach trees, and thus it is generally not planted as far north. The fruits, which ripen to orange or yellowish orange, sometimes tinged with red, have soft flesh surrounding a hard, flattened stone, containing a kernel (seed) within.
Apricots, which are high in carotene (vitamin A) and vitamin C, as well as calcium, iron, and phosphorus, are eaten fresh or processed into juices (apricot nectar) and jams. They are popular in fruit salads, desserts, and baked goods, as well as some meat dishes. They are highly perishable as a fresh fruit, so are often canned or dried. The dried fruit may be eaten as a snack, or reconstituted by soaking and used for cooking. The kernels are also edible, although in limited quantities, as they may contain cyanide compounds. The kernels are also pressed to make apricot oil, which is used in cosmetics and massage oils.
Total commercial production of apricots in 2010 was 3.4 million metric tons. Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, Italy, and Algeria were the leading producers. Within the U.S., 90% of commercial apricot production is in California, where most of the production (valued at $47.5 million in 2010) was for canning and drying. Smaller amounts are grown in other western states and western Canada, and in northeastern states for local fresh markets and in home gardens.
Apricots are highly susceptible to insect damage, especially from Curculio beetles, and from brown rot disease (Monilinia fructicola fungus). In addition, fruits may crack when grown in humid climates, so they are considered difficult to cultivate in much of the Northeastern U.S.
(Bailey et al. 1976, Boriss et al. 2011, Everett 1981, FAOSTAT 2012, van Wyk 2005.)
- Bailey, L.H., E.Z. Bailey, and the L.H. Bailey Hortatorium. 1976. Hortus Third: A concise dictionary of plants cultivated in the United States and Canada. New York: Macmillan. p. 918.
- Boriss, H., H. Brunke, and M. Kreith, revised by D. Huntrods.2011. Apricot profile. Iowa State University. Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Retrieved 24 Feb 2012 from http://www.agmrc.org/commodities__products/fruits/apricot_profile.cfm.
- Everett, T.H. 1981. “Prunus.” The New York Botanical Garden Illustrated Encyclopedia of Horticulture 8: 2820–2830.
- FAOSTAT. 2012. Searchable online statistical database from Food and Agriculture Division of the United Nations. Retrieved 24 Feb 2012 from http://faostat.fao.org/site/567/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=567#ancor.
- van Wyk, B.-E. 2005. “Prunus armeniaca.” Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press. p. 305.
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