Educated fruit

This story — EARTH University Bananas and Pineapples Arrive in Whole Foods Market® Stores in the Southeast — is a bit complex.

There is an agricultural university in Costa Rica called EARTH; Escuela de Agricultura de la Región de Tropical Húmeda. EARTH was founded in 1990 on a former banana plantation, and has its own model banana farm. Also, two pineapple plots. It aims to teach a kind of ethical agriculture. Profits from the sales to Whole Foods Markets support scholarships and research and investment in pineapple production. The Southeast in the story refers to Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Even though Whole Foods Markets is an 800 lb gorilla, on balance this is probably A Good Thing.

Watermelon: Out of Africa

Summer here in Rome tastes of watermelon. So, as the temperature outside hit the upper 30s today, it was great to sit in air-conditioned splendour in the office this lunchtime, eat a slice of cocomero and read a paper on the origin of the crop in the latest GRACE, which has just come out. Fenny Dane and Jiarong Liu at Auburn have looked in detail at chloroplast DNA from material collected all over Africa in an effort to reconstruct the history of both the familiar fruit (Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus) and the related tsanna or citron melon, which is a different botanical variety (var. citroides) of the same species. It turns out that the split of var. lanatus and var. citroides from a common ancestor (C. ecirrhosus, maybe) is ancient. The citron melon split off independently in the area of Swaziland and South Africa, while the wild precursor of the cultivated watermelon has its roots, as it were, on the other side of the continent, in Namibia. The picture below (courtesy of GBIF) shows why watermelon does ok in the Italian summer heat. Its natural habitat is pretty much desert (the record is for an accession in the US National Plant Germplasm System).

melon.jpg

Rescuing the American chestnut

You know, these Nibbles (the short, soundbite-type things which appear at the top of the right sidebar of this page) are fun to do, but sometimes you end up downplaying, or over-simplifying, an important, interesting — and interestingly complex — story. Take what I said about the American chestnut a few days ago. The recent history of Castanea dentata is proud and tragic, and efforts to bring it back from the brink of annihilation well-nigh heroic. To imply, as I did, that these efforts were confined to hybridizing the American with the Chinese chestnut was justified only by the necessity for extreme brevity. In fact, of course, it is not just hybridization but repeated back-crossing. And not just interspecific crossing but also painstaking crossing among the few remaining pure American chestnuts, as reported in the article that prompted me to revisit the original story and hopefully make amends for my earlier flippancy.

Forest products generate income

Rural workers and indigenous people are lobbying the Brazilian government for a policy and start-up cash for small-scale community-level projects on the extraction and processing of non-timber forest products from the Amazon. They say it would be good for them and good for the rainforest, and have a hefty report to back that up with. Meanwhile, in the cerrado, things seem to be developing on an altogether larger scale for local fruits, including the pequi. Via FreshPlaza.