Our Peach Tree

by Kurt Buermann


Some years ago on a whim we purchased a small peach tree (Prunus persica) from Ward’s Berry Farm in Sharon. Peach trees are venerable. Despite the name persica, or Persian, indications are they were cultivated six thousand years ago in China. Peaches were a smash hit. They spread along the Silk Road trade route into Europe and thence to the Americas.

Prospective fruit aside, we liked the look of the tree, and it suited a particular spot in our backyard. The following spring the tree made a modest show of blossoms, and sometime later we noticed small fruit had begun to form. When the fruit attained ping pong ball size, they started dropping off the tree. A close inspection revealed tiny holes: the problem was a small bug known as the plum curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar).   

    Even after this setback, we continued to enjoy the appearance of the tree and its spring flower show. A few more years went by with similar results. Fruit grew to a small size and then—zappo! I was advised to spray the tree with a sulfur-lime mixture. I tried this but was not dutiful enough to reapply the spray according to schedule and after rainstorms.

About this time, our little tree had grown to over seven feet tall with branches reaching to 10 feet. This made spraying difficult. Briefly, I considered hiring a crop duster. But no, I also had to think of our five cats. Sulfur-lime spray, while not toxic, is caustic and certainly wouldn’t do the cats any good. I also thought of the collateral damage to beneficial insects and creatures. The inevitable overspray would affect a large swath of lawn. So I abandoned spraying attempts and let nature take its course.

We did a severe pruning in order to reduce the height of the tree so we might be able to reach the peaches if they ever grew to edible proportions. For a few years—nothing. We talked occasionally of replacing the tree. Likely it overheard us, for this spring, after the ping pong ball fruit had appeared as usual, we happened to look out one day and found the boughs were suddenly laden with sweet-tasting, full-size peaches! There were so many that several small branches had broken. The peach tree had finally brought home the goods. Now we had the problem of all the peaches becoming fully ripe at the same time. I picked some basketfuls and madly drove around town gifting everyone I know. At the same time, out came our recipe books, and the aroma of baking cobblers suffused the house.

I’m certainly not complaining, but I wonder at the peach tree’s sudden fecundity. Perhaps some enemy of the plum curculio had shown up, or the tree developed an immunity to the bug’s predations—a scientifically valid premise, it seems. So, from our peach tree we have gleaned not only an enhanced landscape and luscious fruit but yet another window into nature’s system of cycles and balances.