One of the most common and yummiest fruits out there, the nectarine is actually a naturally occurring genetic variant of the peach. A member of the Prunus persica species of fruit-bearing plants, the nectarine and peach are so closely genetically related that there have been cases of a single peach tree producing both nectarines and peaches at the same time. Generally speaking, where you find peaches, you also find nectarines.
Nectarines are believed to have originated in what is now Zhejiang Province in China, where there is evidence that they were cultivated by humans as far back as 6,000 years ago. A relatively hardy plant that adapts well in non-tropical, moderate environments, peaches and nectarines made their way through Asia and the Middle East probably as the result of trade, landing in Ancient Greece in the 4th Century BC and quickly spreading across Southern Europe. They were introduced to the New World by the Spanish explorers in the mid-1500s, where they immediately flourished.
An estimated 25 million tons of peaches and nectarines are cultivated every year, with China producing over fifty percent of the annual crop. Other major producers include the United States, Italy, Spain, and Iran. Nectarines do not grow well in very hot or very cold climates, and will usually require a moderate combination of both to thrive.
Due to their general adaptability and strength, many home gardeners around the world plant nectarine trees in their gardens. In the United States, most nectarine plants offered for sale come with a ‘Zone Rating’ from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicating in which Plant Hardiness Zones of the country that particular plant will best grow. The higher the rating, the warmer the climate will be.
The major difference between the nectarine and the peach is the skin: peaches have a slightly ‘fuzzy’ skin, while the skin of the nectarine is perfectly smooth. Nectarines also tend to be a bit smaller, and have a slightly tangier flavor and firmer flesh. The skin is edible and, like the peach, nectarines have a pit imbedded in the center of the flesh. Most nectarines have a white, yellow or reddish flesh, and are rich in vitamins A, C, B6 and E; they are also a good source iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
While there are well over 1,000 nectarine variations (and more being created by horticultural researchers all the time), generally speaking there are two main types of nectarines: freestone and clingstone. In the freestone variety the pit in the center of the fruit comes away from the flesh easily. With the clingstone, the pit is deeply imbedded and is quite hard to remove, which makes them a bit messier to eat on their own. Both varieties can be consumed raw, or can be cooked for use in jams, preserves and other applications.
So let’s take a look at some of the most common and popular types of nectarines.
The Fantasia (Prunus persica amenriaca) is a very popular nectarine, and is usually available in grocery stores and farmer’s markets across the United States throughout the summer and fall months. Commercially cultivated in California, the Fantasia nectarine tree is very adaptable and has a USDA Zone rating of 5-9. It will grow in most moderate climates, making it one of the more popular nectarine variations for home growers.
One of the larger members of the nectarine family, the Fantasia has a red skin with a yellow tinge. The yellow flesh is firm, smooth and very juicy. The taste is slightly tangy when the fruit is young and becomes sweeter as it ripens. A freestone nectarine, the flesh pulls away easily from the pit. The Fantasia is normally eaten raw – cut into pieces or as is, like an apple – and is also often canned or made into preserves.
Also often simply called the Sunglo, the Stark Sunglo is one of the larger of the commonly grown nectarines, often reaching three inches in diameter. Developed in 1962 by Stark Bro’s Nurseries and Orchards of Missouri (who also developed the Golden Delicious apple), the Stark Sunglo nectarine is widely cultivated in the Western United States (particularly California) and is usually available from early August through the end of the fall.
Growing best in USDA Zones 5-8, the Stark Sunglo is a freestone nectarine with a yellow and red skin and a pit that pulls away from the flesh easily. The yellow flesh is firm and quite juicy, and has a sweet, slightly acidic flavor. Normally eaten raw on its own or as part of a fruit salad or fresh fruit platter, this nectarine is also good for canning, and will stand up to freezing quite well.
The patriotically named Independence nectarine is a midsize fruit, and one of the hardier members of the nectarine family. More suitable for growing in colder climates than many other types of nectarines (the tree will survive winter lows of 10 degrees Fahrenheit) the Independence is an early harvest nectarine, and is normally harvested from late June through mid-July. It grows best in USDA Zones 5-8.
The Independence nectarine is oval and has a bright red skin and firm yellow flesh with a full flavor that is both tangy and sweet. It is a freestone nectarine, although for the fruit’s size the pit tends to be somewhat larger than average. While good for eating alone, this nectarine is often used in pies and preserves.
Another nectarine whose tree stands up extremely well to colder environments, the Arctic Star is widely cultivated in the Western United States. Developed by the Zaiger Genetics Corp of Modesto, California in the mid-1970s, the Arctic Star grows well in USDA Zones 5-9. It is an early harvest nectarine, and is available in most parts of the US from the middle of June through August.
The Arctic Star is a good size semi-clingstone nectarine (meaning that the flesh clings to the pit, but not as firmly as full clingstone varieties) with a dark red skin and medium size pit. The flesh is white, crisp, and quite juicy with a very smooth, non-acidic sweet flavor that is not tangy; the riper this nectarine gets, the sweeter the flavor. The Arctic Star is usually eaten on its own, and is rarely used in preserves.
The Flavortop nectarine (Prunus persica nusipersica) is a native of California, and is also widely cultivated in the Southern United States. It is considered one of the more adaptable nectarine trees for use by home planters. More at home in warmer climates, the Flavortop nectarine tree is rated as performing best in USDA Zones 6-9. A mid-season fruit, this nectarine is usually available in from the middle of July through the end of September.
The Flavortop is a fairly large variety of nectarine and features a quite distinctive red speckled skin. The yellow flesh of the Flavortop is quite firm, and often streaked with red. A freestone fruit, this nectarine features a citrusy and very sweet flavor that makes it stand out in fruit salads and medleys. Although it does not have a particularly long shelf life, the Flavortop does stand up to canning well.
Also sometimes called the Legrand or Late Legrand, this nectarine has been very popular for many years. First introduced to (and still widely cultivated in) California in the early 1940s, the Le Grand is typically grown in USDA Zones 6-9, as well as in some parts of Mexico and South America.
The aptly named Le Grand (which translates from the French to ‘the great’) is one of the largest nectarines you are likely to find, oftentimes growing to over four inches in diameter and weighing up to half a pound when ripe. This clingstone nectarine normally has a fairly thin red skin often streaked with yellow, and a pale orange flesh that reddens as it reaches the stone. The flavor is sweet and slightly acidic.
The Le Grand is a late harvest nectarine. While very good to eat alone or use as a preserve or pie filling, the Le Grand has a very short shelf life, and will usually need to be either consumed or used fairly quickly after it is harvested.
The John Rivers nectarine was developed in England in the mid Victorian Era (around 1870) by Thomas Rivers and Son Nurseries, among the oldest commercial nurseries in the English-speaking world. Still widely cultivated in England and many parts of the European Union, the John Rivers nectarine is not frequently commercially cultivated in North or South America. The tree is noted for its ability to stand up well to colder winters.
The John Rivers is an early to mid-season nectarine usually harvested in mid June to early July. A relatively large size fruit, the skin is normally white with red shading and spots. The flesh is usually white tinged with green and shot through with purple. It is somewhat coarse, very juicy, and moderately sweet. The freestone pit is fairly large for a fruit of this size.
The Goldmine nectarine is a native of New Zealand, where it was discovered in the late 19th century. Today it is still grown there as well as in Australia, parts of Europe, the Western United States and parts of South America. A hardy plant, the tree is suitable for growing in USDA Zones 5-9.
A late harvest freestone nectarine, the Goldmine has a red skin with yellow and green shading. The flesh is white, sweet and juicy, and very aromatic with a medium size pit. This fruit is excellent for eating alone, or for use in pies and preserves.
Also called the Southern Belle Dwarf or ‘patio’, the tree of this nectarine (unsurprisingly) is smaller than most other nectarine trees, and rarely grows to be over five feet in height making it a favorite of backyard gardeners. Often grown in containers, this tree performs best in USDA Zones 7-9.
Despite the tree’s small size, the fruit grows to be quite large. A mid harvest freestone nectarine, the skin is a yellowish red, and the flesh is yellow, firm, sweet, and very juicy with a moderately sized pit.
Another nectarine variant developed by the Zaiger Genetics Corp, the Double Delight is a hardy plant that will perform well in USDA Zones 6-10, and so thrives in many parts of the lower United States and Mexico.
An early to mid harvest fruit, the Double Delight is a medium size freestone nectarine with a dark red skin shot through with yellow. The yellow flesh is tinged with red which becomes more pronounced near the average sized pit, and has a uniquely sweet and rich flavor.
The celestially named Heavenly White nectarine is a native of California. Performing well in USDA Zones 6-9, this is a mid-season harvest fruit and is usually available from the end of July through mid-September.
The skin of the Heavenly White is a red-white mix, while the flesh is a creamy white which reddens slightly approaching the freestone pit. The fruit is one of the larger sized nectarines, and is known for its outstanding and quite complex sugary / acidic flavor, which makes it stand out in fruit salads and medleys.
The Nectar Babe is another ‘dwarf’ variety of nectarine tree that is often grown in containers by home growers. Normally growing to a maximum of six feet tall, the Nectar Babe is best suited to USDA Zones 5-9, and will normally have a mid-season harvest starting in late-July.
Although the plant itself is a dwarf, the Nectar Babe is a medium size freestone nectarine which has a red and yellow skin. The flesh is a creamy yellow with a very easy to remove, smallish pit and is very sweet and somewhat juicier than some other varieties of nectarines.
The Ruby Grand is another native of California that first appeared on the nectarine scene shortly after the Second World War. An early harvest season nectarine (usually starting in the middle part of June), the trees will usually perform best in USDA Zones 6-9.
This freestone nectarine is quite large (hence the ‘grand’ in the name) and has a ‘ruby’ red skin tinged with yellow. The yellow / orange flesh is quite firm; it has a very full, honey-like sweet taste and a particularly pleasant, strong aroma. The pit is average size, and falls away from the flesh easily.
With a USDA Zone rating of 8-10, the Panamint nectarine tree is particularly susceptible to cold winter weather, and so is normally only grown in warmer areas. A native of Asia, today it is widely cultivated in the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and some parts of South America. This fruit is usually harvested in the late mid-season, and is available from late July through September.
The Panamint is a medium to large size freestone nectarine featuring a thin, bright red skin speckled with yellow. The flesh is yellow, and has a unique balance of sugars and acids which gives it a slightly sour, very sweet flavor that stands out in fruit salads and cocktails. It can be eaten alone, and is often used in pies and preserves along with other fruits to give the filling a little extra tang.
Although you might not think it, the misleadingly named Snow Queen nectarine tree is not a fan of colder winters, and has a USDA Zone rating of 8-10. Mostly cultivated in the Southern part of the United States and parts of Mexico, the Snow Queen is a mid-harvest variety.
This freestone nectarine has a green-tinged bright red skin. One of the larger and juicier nectarines you are likely to find, the flesh of the Snow Queen is snow white (hence the name), and very sweet without any tartness. This nectarine has a fine, soft texture that makes the flesh almost melt in your mouth.
With a USDA Zone rating of 8-10, the Sunred nectarine grows well in areas with mild winters, and is a particularly favorite of growers in the deep southern United States – particularly Georgia, Florida and Texas. An early harvest nectarine, the season runs from mid-May through July.
This aptly named fruit is a relatively small member of the nectarine family and has a bright red skin. A semi-freestone nectarine, the Sunred has a firm yellow flesh with a sweet taste and a medium size pit.
Another nectarine that favors mild winter weather, the Desert Dawn nectarine has a USDA Zone rating of 8-10. Originating in California, it is cultivated throughout the Southern and Southwestern United States, Mexico and parts of South America. This is an early to mid-season harvest nectarine.
A semi-clingstone variety, the skin is a deep red with tinges of yellow. The fruit is small to medium in size, with a pale yellow, quite firm flesh featuring a sweet flavor and an average size pit.
A relatively new variety of nectarine developed by Zaiger Genetics, this tree grows best in USDA Zones 6-9. As the name indicates, this is a late harvest nectarine and is usually available from mid-August through October. The freestone fruit has a yellowish-red skin. The flesh is a creamy yellow that reddens as it nears the average-size pit, and has a very spicy, slightly sweet flavor.
The Necta Zee is another native of California that grows best in USDA Zones 6-9. A mid-season harvest freestone nectarine, the skin is red lightly tinged with yellow. A quite large nectarine, the flesh is a pale yellow shot through with red, and quite sweet although not as juicy as some other nectarines. The pit is smaller than average.
Originating in Stanwick Park, Yorkshire, England sometime in the mid-1800s, and grown in hothouses there for wealthy gourmets during the Victorian Era, the Stanwick is a relatively small nectarine with a fairly thick speckled red and green skin. A late harvest freestone nectarine, the Stanwick has yellowish white flesh that is sweet and tangy with a hint of citrus.
Lisa has a Bachelor’s of Science in Communication Arts. She is an experienced blogger who enjoys researching interesting facts, ideas, products, and other compelling concepts. In addition to writing, she likes photography and Photoshop.