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Here's what 9,000 years of breeding has done to corn, peaches, and other crops...

Stashed in: China!, Awesome, Plants!, Fruit!, Botany

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And here are peaches, which started out in China and were selected for size and juiciness over thousands of years. Note that the water content of peaches has changed drastically in just 6,000 years.

Mind you, not all attempts at selective breeding turn out so well. As Sarah Yager recently wrote at The Atlantic, apple-growers in the United States during the 20th century tried to breed Red Delicious apples to be as bright and shiny as possible and stay on shelves for as long as possible without noticeable bruising. The result? "As genes for beauty were favored over those for taste, the skins grew tough and bitter around mushy, sugar-soaked flesh." Nowadays, as storage and transport have become more advanced, tastier apple varieties like the Honeycrisp or Gala are surpassing the Red Delicious.

71% water to 89% water over 6000 years doesn't sound like much.

But clearly the peaches of today are juicy.

I wonder what was in that 20.9% other that's been reduced to 1.7%.  


Some produce improved, others did not:

Science Friday: I’ve never had a Marshall strawberry.

Leah Gauthier: You have to taste it! It’s really spectacular—very juicy and intensely strawberry. It bursts with flavor, even frozen. It was savored on the West Coast back in its day for its superior flavor. People who have only experienced the grocery store strawberry will have the strongest reaction. It’s a very different berry, for sure.

Why isn’t it commercially available?

The berry doesn’t ship well except for frozen, and that’s what people once did. It’s one of those strawberries you have to eat right off the vine because it’s too juicy and too fragile for transport. That’s part of the problem. Food’s grown for travel, not for taste.


So, reviving the Marshall is an art project?

I consider the whole thing a ‘relational art piece.’ That means I, as the artist, put forward a situation, and it takes a viewer to complete the task. I can’t revive the strawberry alone—it’s going to take a lot of people in a lot of places. A gentleman from Washington contacted me out of the blue in September. His family had a history with the Marshall. He asked to buy some plants from me. I sent them to him, and it wasn’t as big a process as I thought it would be. So, I decided to invite a bunch more people to join. That got the ball rolling. I’ve placed about 280 plants across the country so far. My hope is that in five years I won’t be necessary to the project anymore. People will look to each other for plants, and the Marshall will have a strong enough hold that it will be back. It will be revived. And, it will be a work of art.


How do you keep in touch with everyone who has a Marshall plant?

I have a Facebook page. I post pictures people send, and people post on the page. Each plant has a specific number, so somebody will post, for example, that 181 and 182 are now reproducing. On the Marshall website, there’s a mapof everywhere the plant has gone. I’ve gotten requests from people who looked at the map and said, ‘I see there’s one near Atlanta, and I live near Atlanta. Is there a way to save the shipping fee and contact that person directly?’ So, slowly but surely, it’s happening.

Juicy strawberries sound WONDERFUL.

Cool that they use Facebook pages to coordinate.

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