THE UNIVERSITY'S fruit breeding program began nearly a century ago and is one of the oldest continuous programs in North America. With support from the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, plant breeders faced the challenge of the rigorous Minnesota climate, from extreme subzero winters to hot and dry summers. In the early 1900s, parent trees were collected from the wild as well as from Midwest and New England growers. Early researchers produced thousands of fruit seedlings from those parent trees. As with research then and now, hard work combined with chance led to major breakthroughs. The winter of 1917-18 set records for extreme cold; however, some progeny of "Malinda" - a New England apple - survived and were a boon to Minnesota's breeding program. "Haralson," "Folwell" and "Minnehaha" were siblings released in the early 1920s, and some of "Malinda's" genes live on in "Honeygold" and even "Honeycrisp"™. The plethora of U of M plums introduced in the 1920s can also be traced to the severe test winter of 1917-18.
TODAY, U OF M RESEARCHERS combine traditional plant breeding methods with modern techniques. Laboratory freezing tests during the winter help select the hardiest grape selections without waiting for the once-in-a-decade test winter. Precocious dwarfing rootstocks reduce the years and space required to grow thousands of seedlings. In vitro or "test tube" micro-propagation (tissue culture) provides a rapid means of propagating disease-free stocks of blueberries, raspberries, and grapes. And recently, U of M scientists made plant acquisition expeditions to capitalize on the hardiness of wild varieties in the extreme climates of Kazakstan and China. At the end of the century, only a few states have fruit breeding programs and the U of M is the last major program in the Midwest.
Sungold* 1960 yellow with red blush, very hardy, plant with Moongold for fruit set
Moongold* 1960 golden yellow
Meteor* 1952 vigorous red pie cherry, self-compatible, requiring no pollinatorNorthstar*1950semi-dwarf, self-compatible
Deep Purple 1965
St. Anthony 1923
Summercrisp* 1985 sweet flavor and crisp fruit
Golden Spice* 1949 small fruit, very hardy
Alderman* 1986 high quality, hardy, attractive small landscape tree
Pipestone* 1942 large red fruit, tolerates dry soils
Superior* 1933 hybrid with large, pointed fruits, excellent eating
LaCrescent* 1923 yellow fruit
Underwood* 1920 hardy, vigorous tree, large fruit
South Dakota 1949
Red Wing 1920
*=varieties available from retail nurseries, those without are heirloom varieties with limited availability
'Sungold' apricot is a fine ornamental small tree, but will not set fruit consistently in Minnesota due to the high probability of frost injury to the flowers.
'Alderman' plums have large golden flesh with burgundy skin. The horizontal branches make it an attractive small tree for landscape use. Plant 'Superior,' 'Toka,' or 'Compass' as pollinators along with 'Alderman' for best fruit set.
'Superior' plum is nearly 70 years old and still popular for its showy flowers and delicious fruit.
'Meteor' tart cherry is hardy in central and southern Minnesota. One tree will produce fruit; it does not require another tree for pollination and fruit set.
'Summercrisp' pear is hardy in most of Minnesota. To improve productivity, plant another type of pear to act as a pollinator.