Prunus persica var. nucipersica, the nectarine, is a small tree in the Rosaceae (rose family), which is a cultivated variety of the peach (P. persica). The fruits are similar to peaches, but are smooth, lacking the hairy fuzz characteristic of peaches, and the fruits are often smaller (although large-fruited cultivars have been developed). The nectarine is now cultivated in temperate regions worldwide for its fruit and flowers, and has increased in cultivation and popularity since the introduction of various white nectarine cultivars in the U.S. starting in the early 1990s.
P. persica is native to China, where it has long history of cultivation, dating back to the 10th century B.C., but nectarines appear to be of more recent origin, and are not mentioned in botanical accounts until the 1500s. The term “nectarine” was used to refer to a hairless peach, rather than to a particular cultivar, by Darwin, who noted some instances in which a peach tree would yield nectarines, or peaches and nectarines on the same tree. However, varieties now grown as P. persica var. nucipersica, generally produce only smooth nectarines.
Nectarine trees are similar in appearance to peach trees, with long, hairless, elliptic or oblong-lanceloate leaves, 9 to 16 cm (3.5 to 6 in) long. The 5-petalled flowers pink and usually occur singly, although occasionally in clusters of 2 or 3. The fruit is a smooth-skinned, fleshy drupe, often 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 in) in diameter, or sometimes more, with a stony, flattened pit.
Nectarines, which are high in vitamin C and niacin, as well as potassium, are eaten fresh or prepared in juices, jams, sorbets, and numerous baked goods, or often preserved by canning or sometimes drying. Peaches may be cooked into fruit soups and compotes, or used as a flavoring in or condiment for meat dishes.
The FAO estimates that the total commercial harvest of peaches and nectarines in 2010 was 20.3 million metric tons, harvested from 1.5 million hectares worldwide. China is the leading producer, responsible for approximately half global harvest, followed by the Italy, Spain, and the U.S. Within the U.S., nectarines accounted for 16% of the total acreage of peaches and nectarines in 2002. Virtually all of the commercial U.S. production of nectarines is in California.
(Bailey et al. 1976, Boriss and Brunke 2006, Brunke 2002, Everett 1981, FAOSTAT 2012, Hedrick 1919, van Wyk 2005.)