Apricot (Prunus armeniaca L.) is one of the important fruit trees originating from China, and it is highly appreciated by consumers because of its early ripening, gorgeous colors, and nutritional content (Zhang and Zhang, 2003). Apricot cultivation area and yield in China rank first in the world. In 2016, the total cultivation area of apricots grown for the fresh market and processed in China reached 360,000 hm2, with a yield of 2,700,000 t (Sun et al., 2019). In recent years, the apricot cultivation area and yield have shown a steady growth trend in Hebei Provence, the second-largest apricot-growing area in China. The fresh apricot-growing area in Hebei Province was 63,000 hm2 and the yield was 289,000 t in 2015 (Wu et al., 2018a). Historically, the main apricot cultivars grown in Hebei have been mostly local cultivars, with a large proportion of medium- and late-ripening cultivars and a small proportion of high-quality early-ripening cultivars. Driven by the consumer market, the earlier the apricot ripens, the greater the commodity value. Therefore, it is common practice to pick the fruit early, yet the fruit quality can decline, which restricts the development of the apricot industry.
To provide high-quality fruit to the commercial market, very early-ripening apricots with high yield, good fruit quality, strong disease resistance, and wide adaptability can be obtained through cultivar improvement. Indeed, many programs have focused on the breeding of very early-ripening apricot, resulting in the successful release of new apricot cultivars such as ‘Zaojinyan’ from the Zhengzhou Fruit Research Institute and ‘Chunhua’ from the Shandong Institute of Pomology in China (Huang et al., 2019; Yuan et al., 2019). However, the ecological regions across China vary considerably, and each cultivar has its own adaptability; thus, these cultivars still cannot fully meet the market demand. Currently, very early-ripening apricot cultivars suitable for cultivation in Hebei Province are still lacking. Therefore, the Shijiazhuang Fruit Research Institute at the Hebei Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences (SFRI-HAAFS; Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China) established a cross-breeding program with the aim of obtaining high-yielding, high-quality, very early-ripening apricot cultivars. The collection and evaluation of apricot germplasm resources began in 1981. Currently, SFRI-HAAFS has conserved genetic resources of 120 significant apricot cultivars.
The botanical and biological characteristics of the apricot cultivars, including their ripening time, productivity, fruit shape, skin color, flesh color, fruit weight, flesh adherence to the stone, aroma, total soluble solids content, titratable acidity, reducing sugar content, and protein content, have been determined by comprehensive and systematic analyses of the available genetic resources at SFRI-HAAFS (Chai and Zhao, 2002). Many cultivars are selected as parents, such as ‘Zihe’ and ‘Ganyu’ (Chai and Zhao, 2002), ‘Xinshiji’ (Chen et al., 2001), and ‘Luotuohuang’ and ‘Chuanzhihong’ (Liu et al., 2012). We found that when early-ripening apricot cultivars were used as the female parent, they were more likely to transfer the early-ripening trait to their offspring (Wu et al., 2018b). However, the seeds of very early-ripening apricot are unable to germinate by means of winter sand storage. To solve this problem, we proposed two seed treatment methods: 1) soaking fresh seed kernels in gibberellin and 2) sand storage of fresh seeds (Zhao and Liu, 2013). The work of cross-breeding with very early-ripening apricot cultivars as the female parent began in 2006. Currently, SFRI-HAAFS has more than 10,000 hybrid apricot seedlings under evaluation.
‘Jinyu’ and ‘Jinhe’ are two new very early-ripening apricot hybrids developed by the Plum and Apricot Laboratory of SFRI-HAAFS. They were released in Hebei in 2015 and 2017, respectively. ‘Jinyu’ has high fresh-fruit quality with a sweet taste and a high vitamin C content. ‘Jinhe’ ripens earlier than other very early-ripening cultivars grown in Shijiazhuang, and it has large fruit with good appearance and high flesh quality. The cultivation of these two cultivars has been demonstrated and promoted in the main apricot-producing areas in Hebei, and their high productivity has been recognized. ‘Jinyu’ and ‘Jinhe’ produce apricot fruit that can be supplied to the market earlier, especially in the south–central part of North China and other similar ecological regions. The release of these two cultivars in the future is expected to increase the choice of apricot cultivars available for the major production areas in China.
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