growing an ecosystem of abundance

Happy Birthday John Muir, naturalist and orchardist

220px-John_Muir_Cane-1

Many people have heard of John Muir’s long walks through out the United States and California, and his founding of the Sierra Club. But many do not know that Muir managed a very large, mixed fruit orchard for more than a decade, originally planted by his father in law, in the Martinez area of Northern California.

But he did not discover the ‘Muir’ peach!

The original fruit orchards were first established in
1853 by prominent physician and horticulturist Dr.
John Strentzel, a Polish immigrant settling in the
Alhambra Valley to farm, as California gold rush
opportunities waned. When naturalist and
conservationist John Muir married Dr. Strentzel’s
daughter, pianist Louisa Strentzel in 1880, the
ranch was at its peak, with 2,300 acres growing a
collection of over 1,000 varieties of fruits and
ornamentals.

Strenzel Ranch Orchards, established 1853, Martinez, California

John Muir became ranch manager at that time, as
Dr. Strentzel’s health declined. Muir began to make
the ranch more efficient by reducing the number of
varieties by top-working the trees to those that
were economically feasible to produce, and sell
across the US with the nearby railroad access.

When John Muir’s brother David took
over management in 1892, it freed John to
continue his explorations and conservation work,
that year founding the Sierra Club.

John Muir died in 1914, and is laid to rest on the ranch property.

The National Park Service now manages 336 acres of the original ranch which includes the orchards, the Victorian era ‘Muir House’, the original ‘Martinez Adobe’, and grave sites of the Strentzel family, with the majority of the acreage including Mt Wanda.

The John Muir National Historic Site website is http://www.nps.gov/jomu/index.htm.

Here is a link to the Orchard Management Plan for John Muir National Historic Site, with more detail on the fruit trees:

http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/22491/files/sample%20orchard%20management%20plan.pdf

The ‘Muir’ peach is named after John Muir, but not the one you think!

The heirloom peach variety known as ‘Muir’, is a not so pretty freestone peach with firm yellow flesh that was commonly used for drying (I can attest it is also a fine fruit for fresh eating too!). The many seeds made available from such large scale processing were used as a source of seedling rootstock. Now ‘Lovell’, another drying peach originating in the Winters area in 1882, is the most commonly available seedling peach roostock. Also notable is that ‘Muir’ has shown to be one of the few peaches resistant to ‘peach leaf curl’ (Taphrina deformans), the very common and bothersome fungal disease.

Muir peach, Hendrick

‘Muir’ peach, illust. from
‘Peaches of New York’, H.P. Hendrick

The origin: The ‘Muir’ peach was discovered in 1880 by John Muir, but he was another, different man named ‘John Muir’. This different John Muir was a farmer in the ‘Silveyville’ area, now known as Dixon, and was not known to be directly related to the more well known John Muir, the naturalist. According to Wickson in ‘Fruits of California’, ‘Muir’ was named and first propagated by G.W.Thissell of Winters, being discovered on Muir’s property. http://books.google.com/books?id=ZhgDAAAAYAAJ&q=muir#v=snippet&q=muir&f=false Thissell farmed fruit in Pleasant Valley and was an important nurseryman. He also wrote “Crossing the plains in ’49” in 1903, about his first journey to California
http://archive.org/details/crossingplainsin00

The Luther Burbank connection: Burbank used the ‘Muir’ peach in his breeding program, originating ‘Opulent’ white peach in 1901, and  the ‘Lemon Muir’ peach in 1913, the latter which was said to be better looking fruit than ‘Muir’. Both of these Burbank bred descendents of ‘Muir’ are claimed by different sources to be ‘Muir’ peach X ‘New White’ nectarine seedlings, and are today very hard to find, if not lost.

‘August Etter’ peach, was bred by apple breeder Albert Etter’s brother, August Etter and it is believed that ‘Muir’ is a parent. ‘August Etter’ peach is also curl resistant, and is offered for sale by Greenmantle Nursery:
http://www.greenmantlenursery.com/fruit/peaches.htm

For more on the details of John Muir tending fruit, the ‘Muir’ peach, and a possible chance meeting of John Muir and Luther Burbank at the Ferry Building in San Francisco (including some heart-felt written correspondence between them), read the excellent and extensively footnoted article:

“Two California Lions, John Muir and Luther Burbank” by Roberta M. McDow in “The John Muir Newsletter”, University of the Pacific, Stockton Ca., Volume 17 No. 1, Winter 2006/2007, available online at http://www.pacific.edu/Documents/school-college/centers/john_muir/Winter2006-07.pdf

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