The other night my parents were having a discussion about the origins of the name of Fordhook lima beans—apparently their empty-nest existence is not quite as thrilling as I’d suspected—when my mom started researching and emailed me her findings. It raised the very pressing question of what other people have fruits and vegetables named after them. Here’s what I found:
Rudolph Hass didn’t set out to get his name on 80% of the avocados grown in the world today; he just wanted to earn a little bit of extra cash. Hass was working as a mail carrier in California during the 1920s when he saw a magazine article touting a way to make money by growing avocados, which were a popular luxury product at the time. Inspired, he started a small orchard and began to plant seedlings.
One of his seedlings was particularly troublesome. Hass kept trying to graft other varieties onto it, but none of the grafts would take. Hass decided that this pesky tree was commercially worthless and wanted to chop it down. His children loved the tree’s fruits, though, and persuaded their dad to let it grow. When Hass realized that the avocados from his problem tree were actually delicious and that it yielded abundant fruit, he named the new variety after himself and patented it in 1935.
Any Hass avocado you buy in the store today traces its roots back to that single mother tree in Hass’ orchard. The tree itself isn’t around anymore, though; root fungus killed it off in 2002. Just how big is Hass’ discovery? Hass avocados are a billion-dollar-a-year industry in the U.S. alone.
In 1868, Maria Ann Sherwood Smith found something odd in her apple orchard. Smith, who had immigrated to Australia from England, had a strange new type of apple growing near her creek bed. She thought that the apple might have been a mutation of a French crab apple that was popular Down Under, and she thought it was tasty enough to share it with neighbors. Although she died just two years later, “Granny” Smith’s name is still on the tip of everyone’s tongue when pie-baking season rolls around.
When John McIntosh discovered the apples that bear his name near Dundela, Ontario, in 1811, he knew he was on to something. The red apples were delicious, but he had a serious problem: he couldn’t grow any more of them. The apples came from a seedling that McIntosh discovered on his farm, but whenever he tried to use their seeds to grow new trees, he failed. It wasn’t until his son learned about grafting in 1835 that the McIntoshes were able to move their fruit into serious national production and distribution.
Seth Lewelling first cultivated Bing cherries on his farm near Milwaukie, Oregon, during the 1860s. Why aren’t they called Lewelling cherries, then? Because Lewelling didn’t work his hundred-acre farm alone. Much of the farm’s success stemmed from the hard work of Lewelling’s foreman, a Chinese immigrant named Ah Bing. Bing worked for Lewelling for over 30 years before eventually returning to China, and Lewelling named his new cherry cultivar after his trusty right-hand man.
The bane of picky children everywhere didn’t come from a Mr. Fordhook. They’re actually the creation of Washington Atlee Burpee, the horticulturist who founded Burpee seeds. When he perfected this new type of worm-resistant bean, he named it after his family’s estate, Fordhook.
These raspberry-blackberry hybrids are the result of a happy accident by James Harvey Logan, a lawyer and judge who also dabbled in horticulture. At some point around 1880, Logan set out to cross two blackberry varieties in his garden in Santa Cruz, CA. Luckily for fruit lovers, he planted them too close to a raspberry plant, and the raspberry crossed with the blackberries to make a delicious new type of fruit.
These tasty fruits could just as easily be known as “Carter pears.” James Carter was the first person to import the variety into the United States—in 1799, he planted a few of the trees on a friend’s estate in Roxbury, MA. Years later, Enoch Bartlett bought the estate and thought he’d discovered a new type of pear on his new land. He spread the variety to the rest of the country, and it now bears his name.
Of course, in the rest of the world, Bartlett’s name is not so well known. By the time the pears made it to the States at the turn of the 19th century, they were well established in England as “Williams pears,” in honor of the horticulturist who helped popularize them.
Englishman John Butler developed this roasting and baking potato around 1902. When it was finally time for him to introduce his new variety, King Edward VII was preparing for his coronation. Since Edward’s ascension to the throne and the spud’s debut coincided, the variety ended up being called the King Edward potato as a tribute to the new monarch.
In 1923, horticulturist Rudolph Boysen created a new type of hybrid berry at his California farm, but he couldn’t make it a commercial success and eventually gave up on his experiments and abandoned the plants. A few years later, though, a fellow experimenter named Walter Knott heard of Boysen’s berries and tracked down the few remaining vines on Boysen’s old spread.
Knott took the dying vines back to his own farm and nursed them back to health. In 1932, he started selling the berries at his fruit stand, and customers couldn’t get enough. Knott told the public they were called boysenberries in honor of their creator. It was a nice gesture for Knott to politely give credit to the berry’s originator, and as luck would have it, his name wasn’t forgotten, either. The fruit stand kept growing bigger and bigger until it became what we now know as Knott’s Berry Farm.
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