Report of the
Commissioner of Agriculture, USDA p. 636-637 (1887)
Report of the Pomologist
H. E. Van Deman
In addition to the statements made last year regarding this variety I have to say that it has continued to prove itself of no value, because of the trees being universally and entirely unfruitful. There being some question as to the real character of this variety, early in the spring of this year I wrote to several of the most reliable nurserymen and fruit-growers of the country for cions from bearing trees on their grounds, and requesting them to keep a close watch on the behavior of the variety. Mr. W. C. Barry, of Rochester, N. Y.; Hoopes Bros. & Thomas, of West Chester, Pa., and Mr. E. B. Engle, of Marietta, Pa., each sent me specimens. They were all in good condition and well supplied with fruit buds, and of the same variety which I have without exception seen in the nurseries and orchards of Texas and other States under this name.
Later in the season these parties wrote me that to their astonishment none of the fruit buds on their trees developed into blooms, but dropped off as if they had been killed by frost, when there was no frost to kill them. In other words, they seem to have been abortive from some natural defect.
I also addressed Mr. W. M. Clark, of Nashville, Tenn., who I had learned was acquainted with the early history of this so-called plum, asking him to report to this division what he knew of the matter, and to visit the original tree and send me cions from it. In response to this request he sent me the following, under date of March 24, 1887:
My mother (Mrs. Charity Clark) visited, just after the war, Dr. James E. Manson, a nurseryman of Rutherford County, this State, and brought away some plum seeds from an orchard composed of Wild Goose and Washington plums, and gave them to Dr. Blackman, who planted them. This tree came up with others, and when it bore fruit it was seen that it was different and superior to them. I send a few twigs from two trees, both differing, one never having borne fruit (I mark it "mule"), the other the Blackman plum. And thereby hangs a tale: Mr. J. J. Newson, a nurseryman here, procured buds from the former tree and widely distributed the trees propagated from them. The Rose Bank Nurseries, owned by Truett's Sons, of Morgan, Tenn., sent an agent to Blackmail's and got a large lot of slips or cions from the "mule," mistaking the tree, because it resembled the ordinary plum less than the genuine tree. Thus we have two Blackman plums, one genuine, the other spurious. Of course, those purchasing of the Rose Bank Nursery believe it to be a humbug, while those buying from Newson must be delighted with it.
Again, under date of April 13, 1887, he says:
According to your second request, I repaired at once to Dr. Blackman's, but found the flowers very scattering on the tree from the effects of age and frost. On the "mule" flowering had been intercepted entirely by frost, but I secured the embryo of this, and all the flowers I could of the other, and now have them under pressure and will send them as soon as dry.
It will be seen from these letters that there were two seedling trees on the premises of Dr. Blackmail from which buds have been taken by two rival nursery firms and sent out to the world, one of which was probably good and the other worthless. By some ill-fortune the valuable variety has not been generally distributed, but the bad one has been sent far and wide. The samples from this original "mule" tree sent to me by Mr. Clark correspond exactly with all those received from nurserymen and seen by me in many States. It is rather a significant coincidence that the fruit-buds on this original tree failed to open into flowers, just as in the cases of those on the premises of Hoopes Brothers & Thomas, and others.
The other seedling tree in Dr. Blackman's yard (having since died) produced flowers, and the samples of branches and flowers of it sent here by Mr. Clark appeared almost identical with Wild Goose plum, but very unlike the variety under consideration. It has recently been named "Charity Clark" by Dr. Blackman and Mr. W. M. Clark, of Nashville, Tenn., who have the prior right to give the name the fruit shall bear, and in honor of Mrs. Clark, who got the seed of Dr. Manson.
That such a mistake should have been made (and no doubt it was a mistake on the part of Truett's Sons, of Morgan, Tenn., in getting buds from the wrong tree, and not an intended deception) is a serious matter to many nurserymen who have propagated the variety largely, and to many growers who have planted trees of it. Although thousands of dollars have been lost on this worthless freak of nature under the name of Blackman plum, the discovery by me of its true character when in Texas, in 1886, and having informed the public of the same at once through the public press, checked its distribution and saved the country from further waste of time and money.
Any persons yet having trees of this spurious variety should either dig them out or graft them. That there may be no uncertainty as to their identification, I will say that the tree in both leaf, bark, and arrangement of buds almost exactly resembles those of a peach tree. It is moreover a very thrifty grower. It is thought by several expert botanists to be an accidental cross between the peach and plum, but of course this is only the presumption entertained from the fact of the original tree having grown from the seed of a Wild Goose plum and from examination of its general characteristics. As a tree it is a success, but as a fruit a complete failure.