Despite their botanical name, Prunus persica, historians believe peaches originated in China before becoming widely cultivated in ancient Persia.
A species in the rose family, peaches have corrugated seed shells placing the fruit in the same subgenus as almonds.
Although Georgia is known as the “Peach State” and has produced statistically significant harvests since the late 1500s, California tops the nation in production, followed by South Carolina, then Georgia, and New Jersey.
Types & Varieties
Velvety skin differentiates peaches from nectarines, which are the same species, but bear a recessive gene that inhibits the tiny ‘peach fuzz’ of its biological sibling.
There are hundreds of peach cultivars growing in the United States, and over 2,000 worldwide. Fruit is classified as either clingstone, freestone, or semi-freestone according to how easily the pit or seed separates from the flesh.
There can also be melting and nonmelting flesh types, referring to how quickly flesh softens and fibers pull away from the stone when ripe. Melting flesh peaches can be either clingstone or freestone and are favored for the fresh market; nonmelting types are better for processing or canning.
Regarding flesh color, there’s yellow (most common in the United States for both clingstone and freestone varieties, usually with a higher acid content), white (growing in popularity, originally cultivated in Asia, and sweeter), and the rare red (lesser known and with limited availability).
Clingstone peaches are juicy, soft, sweet, and often used for processing; varieties include Halford, Indian Blood, Independence, Red Beauty, Santa Rosa, and Sims.
Freestone peaches have a firmer texture, are often larger in size, less juicy, have lower sugar content, and stand up well to heat, making them popular with bakers. Varieties include August Pride, Bonita, Cardinal, Early Amber, Elberta, Frost, Golden Jubilee, O’Henry, Redhaven, “Rio Grande, Santa Barbara, and Veteran.
Semi-freestone varieties include Babcock, Dixi Red, Florida-prince, and Springtime.
Specialty cultivars include donut or doughnut peaches, a type of white-flesh fruit with a distinctive flat shape and preferred for their sweetness, lower acidity, and delicacy.
Dwarf cultivars, which will bear fruit in less time than traditional trees, include Bonanza II, El Dorado, Empress, Galaxy, Golden Gem, Pix Zee, Saturn, and Southern Sweet.