A fruit too far
Kate Marshall shares some of the latest fruit cultivars that have been released overseas – and explains what’s involved in getting a new variety here.
New fruit varieties from overseas – and what’s involved in releasing them here
In the days of the early European settlers, bringing new fruit tree varieties into New Zealand was as simple as placing an order with a nursery in the UK and then awaiting delivery via international shipping. Often the trees were supplied with the soil intact around the roots, wrapped in burlap.
In 1884, the government realised that there was a danger of also unwittingly importing unwanted pests and diseases this way, so established laws governing the matter, including the Codling Moth Act of 1884 and the Orchard & Garden Pests Act of 1896. Specifically, the importation of plants and fruit infected with scale insects, codling moth, Queensland fruit fly and phylloxera was banned.
Unfortunately, all but the fruit fly have now arrived (and thrived).
The regulations have since been developed further. Nowadays, the importation of most plants is restricted to small quantities through a quarantine facility. The process helps to ensure that new pest organisms don’t piggy-back their way into New Zealand.
The regulations are particularly strict on fruit species, in order to protect our horticulture industry.
Xylella fastidiosa (a bacteria also known as Pierce’s disease), citrus greening disease (huanglongbing or HLB) or plum pox virus would be devastating to the horticulture industry and home fruit growers.
Because of the potential risks that must be managed, bringing new varieties into New Zealand has become a costly and lengthy process.
In addition, nurseries want to be certain when committing to importing a new variety that it will be successful in our climate as well as have sufficient sales potential to cover the costs of importation and development. So while a quick Google search might bring up a range of exciting fruit cultivars released overseas, many will likely never reach our shores.
What’s new overseas?
We have heard of plumcots and peachcots (which are available here), but what about a peacotum, pluerry, nectaplum or aprium? The Zaiger family in California, US, specialise in hybridising stonefruits into novel new fruits which bring out the best characteristics of each of their fruit parent. Some of these unique fruit varieties are available in New Zealand, but only to commercial fruit growers.
How about a grape which tastes just like candy floss? Introducing the ‘Cotton Candy’ grape variety. After 10 years of breeding for better flavour in grape varieties, the horticulturalists at Grapery in California (specialists in growing table grapes) found this plump, juicy, green variety which gives a sweet hit, without the guilt. Knowing they were onto a winner, Grapery have kept this variety to themselves. So if you want to try this super-sweet grape, you’ll have to visit the US during their short season in August and September.
The pineberry was launched in the UK on April 1, 2010 – and many thought then that it was an April Fool’s prank. But it was no joke. It really is a white strawberry with red seeds and a pineapple-like flavour.
While this is a new variety, white strawberries have been around for hundreds of years but were on the verge of extinction. Clever plant breeders in Holland created this hybrid of the traditional North American red strawberry ( Fragaria
virginiana) and the Chilean white strawberry ( Fragaria chiloensis).
Keen urban fruit growers will know the range of dwarf peach and nectarine varieties introduced to New Zealand gardeners by Duncan & Davies in the 1960s and 1970s, including ‘Honey Babe’ peach and ‘Garden Delight’ nectarine. There have been further developments
Import regulations are particularly strict on fruit species, in order to protect our horticulture industry.
with new dwarf varieties with the same cute, mophead habit, but with deep purple foliage.
Grown in Australia, UK and the US, the ‘Crimson Bonfire’ peach and ‘Sunset’ nectarine were unfortunately not introduced here in time to enjoy the protection of the Plant Variety Rights (which must be applied for here within six years of the plant’s first sale anywhere in the world).
This means that while a nursery in New Zealand could go through the process to import these varieties, it would not hold exclusivity – other nurseries could propagate and sell the plants, so the importing nursery loses out on the possibility of recouping the costs of importation.
The process of importing a new fruit variety (such as a dwarf apple or unique peach tree) can take 10 years from the time the first plant material enters the country. The cost of bringing in new varieties depend on the testing and quarantine period required, but would be between $20,000 and $100,000 per variety.
And then there are some new varieties overseas which can not be imported in to New Zealand at all. For instance, gardeners might know the ‘Ballerina’ series of columnar apple trees which naturally grow into a tall, skinny form. In the US, there is now a small range of columnar peach tree varieties, known as pillar peaches. But these won’t reach our shores as the breeding used genetic modification to select the columnar gene marker.
So when you are next in the fruit tree aisle at a garden centre, perhaps you can appreciate why the new varieties are priced slightly higher than ones that have been here a while. And don’t even get me started on how long the plant breeder has taken to develop the new variety!
The process of importing a new fruit variety can take 10 years from the time the first plant material enters the country.