Named Fruit Varieties Immigrate to Washington

[Guest post by Dave Battey, the Official Historian for the City of Snoqualmie and member of the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society Board]

Henderson Luelling, an Iowa nurseryman motivated by a book about Lewis & Clark exploring Oregon, began in 1845 the selection and preparation of seeds and plants for a trip overland to Portland. 

In April 1847, 177 years ago, he and his family started West with between 800 and 900 carefully packed trees in their two ox-drawn wagons. Due to careful watering and care on the trail, losses were minimal when they arrived in Portland, a town of not more than twenty log cabins. 

To quote a pioneer of the time, “That load of trees contained wealth, health, and comfort for the pioneers of Oregon.” Back then, the Oregon Territory also included what we now call Washington. This stock, along with the stock of another Iowa nurseryman, William Meek, who was infatuated with Henderson’s daughter and decided to follow the Luellings to Oregon with his own supply of nursery stock, were the primary source of grafted fruit trees for all Washington and Oregon pioneers.  The nurserymen became partners in Milwaukee, Oregon, and Mr. Meek married Henderson’s daughter.


On the trip West, a cherry variety, originally from Europe and named Napoleon, had lost its name tag. The excellent fruit was yellow with a red blush and was promptly re-named Royal Ann by the Luellings. So it is, even today, that the Royal Ann of the West Coast is called Napoleon by the rest of the world. The Luellings introduced the Black Republican cherry found in many yards in Puget Sound and the world-famous Bing cherry, named after their Chinese cook. 

Later, J. H. Lambert found the Lambert cherry growing as a seedling beneath one of Henderson Luelling’s original Royal Ann trees. These four cherries make up most of the older grafted sweet cherries planted in Northwest and Puget Sound yards and orchards.

On Puget Sound, the first grafted named variety fruit trees were planted in 1849 by David J. Chambers near Olympia. His trees came from the Luelling Nursery in Milwaukee, Oregon. The first nursery in the State of Washington was established in 1854 near Olympia, and it was quickly followed by nurseries at Steilacoom and Cowlitz Landing.

Meadowbrook Dike Road at Boalch

Where did the named grafted varieties of fruit carefully brought west by oxcart originate?  They are not native to North America.  An interesting reason is that almost all temperate climate fruit varieties grown commercially in North America originated in Europe and Asia. Humans have only been in the Americas for, at most, 20,000 years. On the other hand, fruit in Europe and Asia has been manipulated by humans in temperate climate areas for several hundred thousand years. 

So, our ancestors, gathering fruit to eat, chose the largest and best-tasting to take home. Then, they threw the seeds or pits outside of their cave or wikiup or whatever they called home. Some of these seeds grew up near the homes where they were discarded and cross-pollinated because they were near each other—producing fruit with a little better flavor and size than the average. Over time, by their common-sense fruit gathering, our ancestors slowly modified fruit to their (and our) liking. 

Then Europeans began populating the Americas – bringing this improved fruit with them – and God and the birds took over………….  


Let’s focus on the cherry, an excellent example of God and the birds taking over. Once the Luellings trees bore fruit, the birds spread the seeds far and wide. As pioneers moved north into what is now the State of Washington, European cherries, seeded by the birds, preceded them. Not all seedling cherries are ‘marketable,’ but the birds don’t mind, so the trees spread ahead of the pioneers and fanned out from pioneer population centers.   

Quite magically, every April, we in Western Oregon and Washington are blessed with precious cherry blossoms that God, the birds and our early pioneers provided after the introduction of the European cherry. There really are native Washington varieties of cherry, but they are very rare, flower later and have insignificant fruit. They are quite different from what we all call ‘wild cherries.’ The cherry that has taken over thousands of acres on the west coast of North America – is the cherry our ancestors brought us from Europe.

[Featured Image: Cherries in bloom on Meadowbrook along Boalch]

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