Spring has slipped into the Tehachapi area, arriving on soft westerly breezes and warm rays of morning sunshine. The Earth has responded with greening hillsides, wildflowers, nesting birds and blooming fruit trees.
While Tehachapi is best known for apples, many varieties of temperate fruit trees do well here: pears, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and more. Nut trees like almonds also grow fine in Tehachapi, but they tend to bloom earlier and their crop is often eliminated or reduced by late frost.
The earliest trees to bloom in this area, in fact, tend to be almond trees. Their appearance is striking when the almonds are in full bloom — their creamy white blossoms with red or pinkish centers are a marked contrast to the dark, almost black rough bark of old almond trees. There are several of these oldtimers on the east side of Curry Street near the fire station and others are scattered throughout town.
There used to be one veteran old almond tree located at Herb and Ola Mae Force’s house across from Tehachapi Hospital (now Dr. Susan Hall’s office) that had been planted in the 1880s, and I’ve seen more than one time when it was in full bloom in January following a brief warm spell.
Apricots are another early bloomer, and my Uncle Hank used to say that you could only get a crop on apricot and almond trees in Tehachapi about once every three years. With our warming trend over the past 20 years, the odds may be better now but as the earliest bloomers apricots and almonds are still the most vulnerable. Not all fruit blossoms are particularly fragrant, but almond blossoms have a wonderful sweet scent.
Peaches, cherries, nectarines and plums are usually the next to bloom, followed closely by pears. Peaches and nectarines have beautiful pink blossoms the color of cotton candy, and since the trees haven’t yet leafed out when the blossoms arrive, there is an amazing transformative effect when a drab peach orchard with bare dark limbs suddenly erupts in bright pink flowers.
Each variety of fruit tree is only in full bloom for about two weeks, so like most of nature’s spectacles the flowering of fruit trees is a fleeting phenomena of great beauty.
Pears are slow-growing trees that form stately, upright shapes that bear lovely white blossoms without the reddish centers that almond flowers possess. The parking lot at Albertsons supermarket on Tucker Road is currently decorated with the lovely snowy blossoms of flowering pears.
Incidentally, there is something a little sad about fruit trees that have been specially-bred to produce flowers but not fruit. I understand that it may not be desirable to have fruit dropping on parking lots and sidewalks, but a tree that is incapable of producing fruit isn’t really a fruit tree, it seems to me.
Flowering plums with their riotous masses of deep pink flowers seem so popular and are everywhere, yet they offer no summer reward of sweet fruit to feed a hungry resident or passerby. My farming background and personal philosophy are at odds with the notion of barren fruit trees that bear no fruit and I have yet to plant one anywhere.
The last fruit trees to flower here are generally the apples, which is why they are the most likely to escape harm from late spring frosts. Apples already have leaves when their blossoms arrive, but the effect is still magical when an orchard is in full bloom.
Apples are in the rose family, and the family resemblance is evident in the blossoms: before they open, the outer surface of apple blossom petals are pink and the little rounded flower buds look like tiny pink roses that are about to open.
The apple flowers themselves have five white petals that are often tinged with a delicate pink. If you examine the pale pink flowers produced by our native wild roses, they look very much like apple blossoms.
We are in the middle of our fruit tree blooming period now, so enjoy this while you can and appreciate the differences between the various types of fruit blossoms. As long as we don’t have a killing frost (28 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more) this should be a banner year for Tehachapi fruit production. Let’s hope so.
Have a good week.