The fuzzy skin of the peach fruit is easy to recognize. The tree that produces it grows best in fertile, moist and well-draining soils in a sunny location. Peach trees (Prunus persica) are both ornamental and economically important orchard trees. Insect borers and canker often cause the trees to be short-lived, less than 25 years. Grow peach trees in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 though 9.
A peach tree grows to a mature size of 15 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. Overall, the branches are more horizontally spreading than upright. The bark is dark gray and becomes scaly as trees become old.
The peach tree is believed by botanists to be native to China, where it was cultivated for thousands of years and where, culturally, it symbolize long life. Once the trade routes were established, peach trees were carried to and planted across the Middle East and eventually into the Mediterranean regions, and Spaniards introduced them into Mexico in the late 1500s, according to "Economic Botany: Plants in Our World." Today there are hundreds of different varieties of peaches grown across the temperate climate regions of the world.
Peaches are members of the rose family, Rosaceae. They are closely related to other stone-centered fruits like apricots, cherries and plums, all of which are in the same genus, Prunus, and grouped into the subfamily Prunoideae. While some taxonomists place peach and almond trees into the subgenus Amygdalus, others go so far as to consider peach trees a member of the plant family Amygdalaceae, according to both Purdue University and the University of Georgia.
In late winter to early spring the bare branches of peach trees are densely lined with pink to white blossoms. They appear so early in spring that sometimes late frosts kill them. Some varieties of peach trees bear blossoms with extra petals, called double-form flowers, that look fuller and more frilled. Some peach trees are grown merely for their more ornate flowering displays rather than for their later production of edible fruits.
After flowering ends, the peach tree's long, lance-shaped leaves emerge with a light green to bronze color. The leaves mature to a medium green and often have wavy edges. Each leaf blade is at least four times longer than it is wide. In autumn the foliage turns yellow to orange before dropping away.
Flowers pollinated by insects develop into sweetly fleshed fruits with a fuzzy yellow skin and blushing of red, orange or pink. Depending on variety, they ripen anytime from late spring to mid/late summer. The stone or pit of the peach fruit is hard and protects the seed inside. Peach flesh is either golden yellow or white to pale yellow in color. Fruits that have pits that freely tear away from the edible flesh are known as "freestones" while those with pits that adhere to the flesh as called "clingstones." Nectarines are simply peaches that lack the fuzzy skin and result from genetic mutations on single branches of peach trees. They are pruned off, rooted and developed into trees that produce only nectarines.