‘Watermelon plums’: Israeli farm pioneer grows hybrid fruits

An Israeli family farm has spent decades developing hybrid fruits, from black apricots to “watermelon plums”, which it says offer unique flavours and added resilience against a changing climate.

Ben Dor Fruits and Nurseries is based in Yesud HaMa’ala, a northern community founded in the 1880s during the first wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine, then under Ottoman Empire control.

Using classic cross-breeding techniques, it has created unique varieties of stone fruits in its orchards in the fertile Hula Valley in the northern Galilee.

Among its offerings are “pomegranate plums”, which are particularly sweet, “watermelon plums” with red flesh and green skin, and the bright yellow “lamoon” plum, shaped like an inverted teardrop and with a slightly tart flavour.

“We saw there is potential for expansion on supermarket shelves if we develop fruits that are different and special in their shape and taste,” said the director of the business, Sefi Ben Dor.

The annual production, which averages between two and three tonnes, also includes apricots of different colours, notably red and black.

For years, the family grew mainly for export, and it has licenced farms in 33 countries to produce their hybrids, the company says. But the disruptions of the Covid pandemic turned its focus back to Israel.

The director’s son, Ido Ben Dor, said the company is working on adapting new varieties, with a focus on resistance to the effects of climate change.

Ben Dor’s work is seen as a “welcome initiative” in adapting plants to changing temperatures, said Yoram Kapulnik, former director of the Volcani Center, Israel’s national agricultural research facility.

Kapulnik, who heads the US-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund, said hybridisation can make varieties more resilient to drought and allow farmers to use less pesticides, creating “relative advantages to the produce so we can enjoy it for longer”. — Agence France-Presse

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