This morning at the local farmers’ market, I picked up a couple of nectaplums, which started to become available last week. Nectaplum is a portmanteau of nectarine and plum, and the nectaplum is a hybrid of a variety of nectarine and a variety of plum.
There were also pluots (pluot = plum + apricot) on sale.
And so I was plunged into the mysteries of the genus Prunus (peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, and almonds) and the names for its bewildering collection of varieties and hybrids.
The genus Citrus is at least as bad, but there aren’t nearly as many portmanteaus in the terminology, though there is the tangelo (tangelo = tangerine + pomelo). (If you want a quick headache, go check out the history of tangerines and pomelos.)
But back in Prunus-land: cherry and almond (alone or with noun or adjective modifiers, as in sand cherry and flowering cherry) are both used to cover a number of distinct species, and things are not much clearer for peach, plum, and apricot.
Nectarines are peach cultivars with smooth (rather than velvety or fuzzy) skins.
The plumcot (called interspecific plum in U.S. regulations) occurs as a natural cross between plums and apricots (several different crosses, it seems), but hybridizers (especially Floyd Zaiger) have labored to combine cultivars of plums and apricots in various ways, to produce things called plumcots, plucots, pluots, and apriums. (For me, they’re all pluots.)
Throw in nectarines, and you get nectacots and nectaplums.
Throw in (fuzzy) peaches instead of (smooth) nectarines, and you get peachcots and peach/plum hybrids that apparently have as yet no fixed name in the world of plant suppliers, much less grocery shoppers, though the copulative compound peach-plum ought to do if peachum seems unlikely to catch on (perhaps because it suggests the Peachams of the Three-Penny Opera).
And then, yes, all three: the nectacotum (nectarine + apricot + plum) and the peacotum (peach + apricot + plum).
Over in cherry-land, there’s the cherrycot (sand cherry — not what you think of as a cherry, whether wild cherry, sweet cherry, or sour cherry — crossed with japanese purple apricot) and the cherry-plum.
None of these labels are “scientific”, but you really don’t want to see botanists’ attempts to identify the contributing cultivars of the relevant species and combine these into formulas; Linnean binomial nomenclature doesn’t extend easily to cases like this.
Putting the scientific labels aside, we still have the technical terminology of specialists in the plant world, which builds on the “common names” (the labels of ordinary language) by restricting or extending their reference and by discarding some terms and introducing new labels (through portmanteauing, among other things). Some of this technical vocabulary then filters through to ordinary language, especially via the terminology of commerce, though often it remains in the border country between technical and ordinary language for some time, and crosses over (if at all) at different times in different places (that is, in different social groups).
So I can put pluots on my shopping list without finding anything special about the name (though I doubt that I knew it at all twenty years ago), and I have learned to look forward to the possibility of nectaplums and nectacots at the farmers’ market (though for me these are still growers’ and sellers’ words and I don’t expect non-specialists to know them).