Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/The First Fruits of the Land (Part 2)


A Brief History of Early Horticulture in Oregon.

By Dr. J. R. Cardwell, Portland.

For many years president of the Oregon Horticultural Society.


Ten thousand square miles of the valleys and foothills of Oregon are in every way adapted to the culture of all the fruits grown in this latitude, of the finest quality and in great abundance. Before the advent of the white man and cultivated fruits, this country had demonstrated its capacity to produce the wild fruits abundantly, of fine flavor and excellence. The Indians, trappers, and pioneers valued these highly and made good use of them. As they were in some sense evidence of a soil and climate adaptation to and prophetic of a great industry now growing up among us, it is not out of place to briefly make some record of them; and this seems the more important in view of the fact that the pomological division of the Department of the Interior has taken up the subject and is making collections and urging the improvement of indigenous fruits and the hybridizing and cultivation of them and in view of the fact that some of our best fruits have been thus produced.

The Oregon crab apple (Pyrus rivularis) is found on cold marshy ground, bordering ponds, mountain springs, and streams, and when favorably situated is a good sized tree and attains a diameter of one foot and an altitude of twenty feet. Its rich green spreading top in the season bears heavily a small, oval, golden-colored apple, which when ripe is eaten by the Indians, and was used in early times by the white settlers for making preserves, jelly, and vinegar. This species has been hybridized and improved by some of our nurserymen, and no doubt will be further improved, which may lead to a valuable variety in the future.

The Oregon wild plum (Prunus subcordata), of which there are two or three varieties, was much valued in early times for its fruit to eat green, for preserves, and jam. This plum for quality is about the same as the native red plum of the Middle West, and has been improved by selection and cultivation; was used formerly by nurserymen for stock on which to graft the plum and prune. The tree grows to a height of ten or fifteen feet. Another variety produces a round fruit nearly an inch in diameter; another an oblong, resembling in shape, color, and quality the Damson, and by those who use them preferred to that variety. Of these something may be expected from hybridizing and cultivation.

We have two or more species of wild cherries; one, Cerasus demissa, a shrub or small tree bearing a purplish black fruit, very much resembling the choke cherry, though of much better quality and edible; is used to some extent in marmalade; its roots have been used as stock to work improved varieties upon. The other, Cerasus emarginati, sometimes attains to the dignity of a tree one foot in diameter and thirty to forty feet high, and bears a roundish, black cherry about one third of an inch in diameter, bitter and astringent.

The Oregon elder (Sambucus glauca) is a unique tree of unsurpassed elegance and rare beauty on the lawn or in the forest; is of vigorous growth, attaining two feet in diameter and thirty feet in height, with a beautifully cut leaf of rich bluish green, decked with showy sprays of creamy white flowers six to ten inches across, and in the fall of the year gorgeously arrayed and heavily laden with purple berries, interspersed with green fruit and blossoms, which continue to bud and bloom from June to September, giving a succession of flowers, green fruit, and ripe purple berries the entire season. The berry has a pleasant sub-acid taste, and with a little sugar is palatable in pies, stewed, or in preserves, and properly prepared makes an excellent wine, for which it is now often used. Another variety of smaller growth (Sambucus pubens) has a red berry, also edible. This variety is not so widely distributed, and is only found along the coast and up the streams inland.

The grape (Vitis Californica) is found in the southern part of the State, and has been much used in other countries as a phyloxera resistent stock, on which to work European varieties. This fruit is something like the fox grape of the East, and has been some improved by selection and cultivation, and will doubtless be of value in the future.

Oregon is a land rich in native berries, which were held in great esteem by the Indians and early settlers, some of which are really fine and yet much sought after and utilized, and form a considerable commerce in our towns and cities.

The wild blackberry (Rubus ursinus) is very abundant everywhere, and takes possession of neglected fields, fence rows and burned districts. The fruit is of good size, oblong, very sweet and juicy, and believed by the children and good housewife to be for all purposes much superior to the cultivated varieties. Tons of this fruit are gathered and sold to families, and if there were more pickers a large commerce could be made with the canneries. The Aughinbaugh is a sport from this species.

Of raspberries, we have four varieties—the salmon berry (Rubus nutkanus), a large, yellowish, red fruit, with a white blossom, juicy, sweet, highly flavored, very palatable; a red berry (Rubus leucodermis), highly aromatic, soft, sweet and very good; a black cap (Rubus pendens), not unlike Gregg's black cap, and with us, under cultivation, fully its equal. This berry is widely distributed and abundant. A black raspberry (Rubus spectabilis), being rather hard and dry to rank first class, yet with a peculiar flavor; very palatable to some tastes.

The wild strawberry (Fragaria Chilensis) is widespread, abundant and very prolific, so that in some regions it is said hogs fatten on them. The berry is not large, but improves under cultivation, and by some is classed superior in flavor to the cultivated kinds. Several fine varieties have been produced by cross-fertilization with this, among which are the Triomphe de Grand, True Chili, and several other varieties.

We have several wild currants, one a beautiful shrub and sought in the Eastern States and Europe as an ornamental lawn plant, and valued for its elegant foliage and early and profuse bloom of pink and scarlet flowers; berry not edible. The yellow currant (Ribes aureum) responds well to cultivation, and in the wild state is good sized and edible.

Of gooseberries, two or three kinds are common. Ribes Menziesii is a large, hairy berry, edible, but rather insipid, and is not much used. Two others are red and brown when ripe, a fourth of an inch in diameter, sweetish, tart; good for culinary purposes; do not know of their cultivation.

Four or more cranberries are found in the State. Vaccinium parvifolium is a pale, red berry, small, dry, with a very slight cranberry taste, and not used. Vaccinium ovalifolium, high bush cranberry, is a large, blue berry, good and in some localities where fruit is scarce very useful; much sought by the Indians. Vaccinium microphyllum is a red, high bush cranberry, smaller, juicy and palatable; only found high up in the mountains. Another is found in the Cascade and Coast ranges as an evergreen bush, and bears a dark, purple berry; edible. Local botanists speak of other varieties.

The barberry (Berberis Aquifolium), Oregon grape, so-called, is a superb and elegant ornamental evergreen shrub, in leaf somewhat resembling the English holly; in the wild state growing two or three feet high; under cultivation making a showy lawn plant, six to eight feet, with finely cut, polished leaves and symmetrical head; early in spring bearing a profusion of showy, yellow flowers, followed in their season by clusters of dark purplish black berries, the size of wild cherries; altogether a thing of beauty rarely equaled; fruit acid and make a fine beverage, and good pies and preserves. There are others of the barberry family.

The salal (Gaultheria Myrsinites) is scattered through the dense fir forests of the State; is another beautiful, small shrub, evergreen, bearing an acid, edible berry, size and color of the Oregon grape; much sought by the Indians, and in early days made an excellent wine for the resident Hudson Bay Company employees. The salal is a variety of wintergreen, and seems to thrive best in the deep shade of the forests; has not been cultivated.

The service berry, or Juneberry, a small tree six to twelve feet high, we expect to make a good record for in the future. This has been cultivated in other parts of the world and much improved. The service berry in the Willamette Valley grows in all soils, and at altitudes as high as the snow line, bearing a sweetish, pleasant tasting berry about the size of our largest wild cherry; as yet it has not been cultivated with us or much utilized.

A black haw (Cratægus Douglasii), not unlike the black haw of the middle west, is sparsely found in some localities.

Our one filbert, hazel nut (Corylus rostrata), is of the same species as the imported nuts in our market, and closely approximating in size, flavor, and quality, and grows everywhere in our valleys, sometimes to a tree ten inches in diameter and from eight to fifteen feet high. No effort is recorded of any attempt to cultivate or improve it.

A kind of chinquapin chestnut (Castanopsis chrysophylla), is a symmetrical growing tree, fifty to one hundred feet high, bearing abundantly a small, hardshell chestnut, sweet and edible.

It is not too much to say that all the valleys and foothills of Oregon are fruit lands, and abound in choice spots for the different fruits cultivated in our climate.

As perhaps, is always true in a new country, the fruits of Willamette Valley were uniformly large and free from insect pests or fungus blights, consequently made a superlatively fine showing, stood handling and transportation much better than the fruits of this valley to-day, kept much longer and better; in fact, our winter apples and pears generally kept until late in the spring. I premise that persistent and thorough spraying may correct the present degenerate condition—pests and blight.

In those days it was not uncommon for Yellow Newtowns, Spitzenburgs, Winesap, American Pippin, and the Easter Buerre pear, to keep well, sometimes marketable as late as April and May. The Winesap was then a fine keeper, as was also the Winter Nellis and Easter Buerre.

We have always had the reputation of growing the largest fruits, proven at all the World's fairs in this country, since at Philadelphia in 1876. Yet larger were the first fruits in the fifties and sixties. A letter from Mr. John Barnard, published in the Oregonian, a few days since, will give some idea of the size of the Gloria Mundi apple, which in those days was not uncommonly 24 to 36 ounces in weight. Other apples were accordingly large. I quote:

In 1856, fifty years ago, there was an apple grown in Benton County, Oregon, purchased by my brother, A. D. Barnard, of Corvallis. He paid $5 for that apple, and had a tin box made for it, and sent to me in Boston by express, the charge being about $3. The variety was "Gloria Mundi," nearly six inches in diameter, weight 42 ounces. The apple was weighed by Dr. J. R. Cardwell, the dentist, then visiting at Corvallis, who remembers the apple and price paid for it. The next October, 1857, I came to Oregon, went to Corvallis and paid $8 a bushel for Oregon red apples and sold them at $1 a dozen.

John L. Barnard.

To make record of a perhaps original horticultural trick, and the possibilities of the Pound pear, I vouch for the following story, which I know to be true. It was how Mr. J. W. Walling beat the world's record possibly for all time, in the growth of the Pound pear.

As is evident, Mr. Walling was somewhat original and withal a practical fruit-grower. He in-arched into one body two of our native thorns (Cratægus brevispino) of thrifty growth, planted in a black, loamy soil near a flowing spring. On the top, thus growing in-arched into one body, he grafted the Pound pear. When this tree came into bearing, of good size and vigorous growth, he removed all the young pears but two of the largest and most promising. These he suspended in sacks to support an unusual weight. In the dry season of the late summer and fall, a large tub with spigot filled with water to supply just the right moisture, was placed over the roots. The result of this proceeding was two enormously large pears, one weighing 54 ounces, shown in some of our local fruit meetings, probably in 1858. This pear was sent to the Department of Horticulture, Washington, D. C., and was rightly regarded as a world's wonder in the pear family.

Our Royal Ann cherry, (Napoleon Bigarreaux,) clean, bright, and beautiful, ran in those days, 3 to 3¼ inches in circumference. Peaches, when we had them, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and currants, accordingly large. The size, quality, and beauty of our fruits were always a surprise to newcomers.

In the summer and fall of 1857 a few ambitious and competitive fruit growers of Multnomah County attempted a social organization in Portland. The first meeting was in cherry time, held in a vacant room on Front Street. Boxes and heavy bearing limbs of berries and cherries, with flowers and vegetables of the season, tastily arranged on tables, made quite a respectable showing; in fact, a display that would be creditable at the present day—1906. Such cherries, blackberries, strawberries, gooseberries, and currants had never been seen on exhibition before. There was no sign of fungus or insect pest—clean, bright, ripe fruits.

George Walling, Albert Walling, Henry Miller, Thomas Frazier, J. H. Lambert, James B. Stevens, Henry Prettyman, J. H. Settlemeir, Seth Lewelling, were leading spirits, all enthusiasts and practical fruit growers, knew about fruit growing, and did most of the talking. Thomas Frazier was elected president, and Albert Walling secretary.

Monthly meetings were held for several months; called meetings were held two or three times in the summer and fall of 1858. In 1859 the Multnomah County Agricultural Society was organized, with Thomas Frazier president, Albert Walling secretary. About this time the first state fair meeting was held at Clackamas, a suburb of Oregon City. W. H. Rector, president, Albert Walling, secretary.

In 1858 the following agricultural societies were organized, and these all meant largely horticultural societies:

Corvallis, Benton County, October 13, a county fair with fruit display; A. G. Hovey, president, and E. M. Waite, secretary.

Albany, Linn County, a fair, October 28, 29.

Salem, September 5.

Lane County, Eugene, September 11, 12; A. McMurry, president, E. E. Haft, secretary.

Yamhill County, McMinnville, October 27, 28.

Jacksonville, October 25.

A county fair at Eugene, October 9; president, W. S. Brock, secretary, B. J. Pengra.

These societies all inaugurated annual fairs, with competitive exhibits of fruits, grain, and live stock. They did much to educate the people and promote the fruit industry of the State, leading up to the permanent establishment of the State Horticultural Society and state fairs.

In 1861, October 1, 2, and 3, a state fair was held in Oregon City. W. H. Rector was president, and Albert Walling, secretary.,

Marion County fair at Salem, September 11 and 12.

Linn County, Boston fair, September 18 and 19.

Umpqua Valley Agricultural Society Fair at Oakland, September 12.

Yamhill County Agricultural Society and fair at McMinnville, September 24 and 25.

Benton County Agricultural Society Fair at Corvallis, October 3 and 4.

Lane County Agricultural Society Fair, October 9 and 10, Eugene.

Washington County Agricultural Society Fair at Hillsboro, October 16 and 17.

Multnomah Agricultural Society and Fair, October 23 and 24. Thomas Frazier, president, and Albert Walling, secretary.

State fair at Salem, September 20, October 1, 2, and 3. Major Simeon Francis, president, and Samuel May secretary. Hon. R. P. Boise delivered the annual address.

For the first three years the Oregon State Agricultural Society, first meeting at Clackamas, second at Oregon City, and third at Salem, had quite a considerable premium list, which was promptly met by the society without state aid, a three-dollar membership fee, the generosity of the public and members furnished the necessary money.

On petition to the legislature setting forth the situation, urging an appropiation for more efficient work, to secure a permanent organization, the matter was taken up by the legislature, discussed pro and con, and finally an appropriation of $3,000 per annum was passed, since which time the society has had state aid. At the fourth fair, at Salem, George Collier Robbins of Portland, was elected president, Albert Walling, secretary.

This society has been an important factor in promoting the agricultural interest of the State, now a permanent state institution holding a creditable state fair at Salem annually.

The Oregon State Horticultural Society was organized in Portland January 13, 1889, with a long list of active members from all over the State. J. R. Cardwell, president, E. W. Allen, secretary.

For many years quarterly horticultural meetings were held by invitation from the different towns of the State, with marked interest and beneficial results to the horticulture of the State, financially, fraternally, and socially.

The local interest and generosity of resident horticulturists in the display of fruits, flowers, decorated halls, music, excursions through the country, well-ordered ovations, the defraying of all expenses of visiting members and the society, was a notable feature of these gatherings. Able papers were read and discussed, the best social feeling prevailed, and everybody went away feeling better and wiser.

The Oregon State Horticultural Society is now a permanent prosperous state institution, active in the work of horticulture. Biennial meetings are held, the annual meeting January 13 in Portland, and one summer meeting out, as designated by the executive committee on invitation of outside localities. The next summer meeting to be held in Salem, July 6 and 7.

The society has had two presidents in the eighteen years of its existence. The Honorable E. L. Smith of Hood River, and Dr. J. R. Cardwell of Portland. Prof. E. R. Lake, botanist and horticulturist of the Agricultural College of Corvallis has been the very efficient secretary and treasurer for the last twelve years.

The State Board of Horticulture is a creation of the legislature of 1889, approved by the Governor February 25, 1889. The measure was entitled "An act to create a state board of horticulture, and appropriate money therefor." This has proved an opportune and very efficient board, an educational aid in the inspection and eradication of insect and fungi pests. Thirty-five hundred dollars per annum was appropriated to maintain this board.

The following officers and members were appointed by the Governor: J. R. Cardwell, president, Portland, commissioner for the State at large; James A. Varney, The Dalles, inspector of fruit pests, commissioner for the fourth district; R. S. Wallace, treasurer, Salem, commissioner for the second district; Henry E. Dosch, Hillsdale, commissioner for the first district; J. D. Whitman, Medford, commissioner for the third district; James Hendershott, Cove, commissioner for the fifth district; E. W. Allen, secretary, Portland.

District boundaries—First district: Multnomah, Clackamas, Yamhill, Washington, Columbia, Clatsop, and Tillamook Counties. Second district: Marion, Polk, Benton, Linn, and Lane Counties. Third district: Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Coos, Curry, and Lake Counties. Fourth district: Morrow, Wasco, Gilliam, Crook, and Sherman Counties. Fifth district: Baker, Wallowa, Malheur, Harney, and Grant Counties.

The biennial reports of this board have been well received at home and abroad, and are now an acknowledged authority in the horticultural literature of the State. These reports were awarded at the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, N. Y., a gold medal; at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha, in 1898, a gold medal; at the Interstate and West India Exposition at Charleston, S. C., 1902, a gold medal; at the International Exposition, held at Osaka, Japan, in 1903, a gold medal. Are now used as text-books at the Agricultural Experiment Station at Sapporo Nokkaido, Japan, and in the horticultural studies at the Agricultural College, Stuttgart, Germany.

The present officers and members of the board are: W. K. Newell, president; James H. Reed, treasurer; Geo. H. Lamberson, secretary, Portland. W. K. Nowell, Gaston, commissioner for the State at large; James H. Reed, Milwaukie, commissioner for the first district; Chas. A. Park, Salem, commissioner for the second district; A. H. Carson, Grants Pass, commissioner for the third district; R. H. Weber, The Dalles, commissioner for the fourth district; Judd Geer, Cove, commissioner for the fifth district.