A native of China, the peach (Prunus persica) is a small deciduous short lived tree in the Rosaceae family and in the same genus as plums, cherries, almonds, and apricots. Nectarines are the same genus and species but a different variety. Peach trees grow up to thirty three feet tall and have lanceolate leaves up to six inches long and five petaled pink flowers that are produced in early spring before the leaves appear. The fruit has white or yellow flesh and a single large seed with a woody husk. Peaches like full sun and sandy, well-drained soil. They can be grown in USDA ones 5-8 but must be protected from late frosts in spring, and must have an adequate chill period for good fruit production.
Shakespeare refers to the peach in two plays:
1. In 2nd Henry IV (act ii, sc. 2, 17) Prince Henry says to his friend, Poins, as he considers the wanton ways of his past;
What a disgrace is it to me to remember
thy name! or to know thy face to-morrow! or to
take note how many pair of silk stockings thou
hast, viz. these, and those that were thy
2. Pompey the clown in Measure for Measure ( act iv, sc. 3, 10) notes that the customers of his boss, Mistress Overdone, the brothel owner, are fellow inmates in prison;
Then is there here one Master Caper, at the suit of
Master Three-pile the mercer, for some four suits of
peach-coloured satin, which now peaches him a
Both mentions of peach are references to the color of the peach blossom rather than to the fruit but Shakespeare would have been familiar with the peach since it was well known in his time. Peaches were first cultivated in 2000 BC and were a favorite food of early Chinese kings and emperors. They were transported to India, Persia, and Greece and introduced to Europe by Alexander the Great. Evidence from wall paintings shows that the Romans had peaches by the first century AD. They thought peaches originated in Persia, however, and called them malum persicum, Persian apple. The Romans probably introduced peaches to England and the botanist John Gerard, a contemporary of Shakespeare, grew several kinds in his London garden. The common name, peach, came from the peche in French that was derived from the Latin malum persicum. The botanical name Prunus persica literally means Persian plum.