Prunus armeniaca, more commonly known as the apricot, had humble beginnings, starting with wild trees that were cultivated for their sweet, delectable fruit. As time went by, the popularity of the apricot led to the expansion of its cultivation. Today, it is grown throughout the world, with major cultivation focused in the Middle East and the United States.
The true origin of the apricot is unsure. It is commonly believed to have originated in Northeastern China, somewhere near the Russian border, in the area of the Great Wall, around 4,000 years ago. Another theory suggests that the apricot originated in Armenia. Archeological findings from the Garni Temple and the Shengavit settlement in Armenia yielded apricot seeds estimated to be as much as 6,000 years old. In fact, the name Prunus armeniaca alludes to the relationship apricots have with Armenia. Wherever the origin, the people of that region took the ancient native apricot and cultivated the tree for its fruit.
Introduction to the Middle East
The apricot spread through central Asia, eventually making its way to the Middle East. Its sweet flavor and delicate texture was prized in the Persian Empire. It was often dried and became a regular item available in Persian markets.
Introduction to Europe
The continued spread of apricot cultivation led to its appearance in the region of the Mediterranean. Alexander the Great is credited with introducing apricots to Greece. The Romans eventually introduced apricots to western Europe around 70 B.C.E. England saw the first apricot tree in 1542, when King Henry the 8th directed his gardener to bring them from Italy.
Until this time, apricots were propagated largely by planting their seeds and many different varieties of apricot resulted, varying in size, color and flavor. Many of these are still grown today. Eventually, through selective breeding improved cultivars of apricots were developed. Lord Anson of Hertfordshire is credited with much of the success in this work, creating the famous 'Moor Park' variety of apricot.
Introduction to North America
Apricots were most likely brought to North America in the 1700s by English settlers on the east coast and Spanish missionaries on the west coast in California, where the climate and soils provided for good production of the fruit. The first record of major production of apricots in California was in 1792. Commercial cultivation was initially confined to frost-free areas along the Pacific coast. By the early 1900s, the Santa Clara and San Joaquin valleys were the focus of apricot production in the United States and apricots continue to be grown there today.