Unfortunately the fruits I find are usually infested with insects. I had better luck with wild nectarines. I was leading a tour in Central Park late one summer, when I spotted a peach tree. After announcing my find, a student reached under the foliage and pulled out a delicious, ripe nectarine. There was plenty for everyone.
In actuality, nectarines are smooth-skinned peaches, and peaches are fuzzy nectarines. Thatís why I was fooled. The foliage is identical. A genetic mutation, like that which creates albinos, makes the difference. Sometimes the two fruits grow on the same tree, and you may even find fruits that are half nectarine and half peach. The popular idea that nectarines are hybrids of peaches and plums is simply erroneous.
These wild nectarines were smaller and less juicy than the peaches, but these were sweet and delicious, with no insects. This is the only nectarine tree Iíve ever found. It taught me that wherever you live, nature is full of surprises.
Soon after, I found another unexpected close relative of peaches and nectarines, in an overgrown field near the seashoreóa wild apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca). Itís a small tree, with medium-sized, simple, alternate, wedge-shaped, finely-toothed leaves. Apricot pits litter the ground under it all year, and the fruit is identical to commercial apricots (but much tastier), so itís easy to identify. Apricots arenít supposed to grow wild in the North (the blossoms open so early in the spring, theyíre vulnerable to frost), but they donít seem to realize it. I donít know how common they are, but keep your eyes open for them. You may find them escaped from cultivation in sandy fields and thickets across the country, where apricot-eating people tossed away their pits.