[NAFEX] Treasure of the Sierra Foothills: Heritage Fruit and Nut Trees Discovered and Preserved

mIEKAL aND qazingulaza at gmail.com
Tue Apr 26 14:21:45 EDT 2011

Treasure of the Sierra Foothills: Heritage Fruit and Nut Trees
Discovered and Preserved


Organic farming pioneer, Amigo Cantisano, is carrying on the work of
Felix Gillet, the father of perennial agriculture in the West. The
discovery of 100-year-old orchards has saved a wealth of fruit and nut

ARTY: Who is Felix Gillet and why is he important?

AMIGO: Felix Gillet was an early settler of the gold country in Nevada
City, California. He was a Frenchman who migrated back and forth to
the United States numerous times as a sailor from northern France. He
settled in Nevada City around 1859, where he opened the first
barbershop. During the early 1860s, he spent a year in France making
contacts and learning about the nursery trade, and then came back and
used his earnings from his barbershop to purchase a piece of property
and start importing plants originally from France and eventually from
about 40 countries. He would bring things in that were already well
known and popular to some degree in their home country, and he would
test them here. The best of them he would release to farmers and

 From 1871 until his death in 1908, he ran one of the first nurseries
in the West, and was extremely active at propagating, breeding and
importing hundreds of varieties. From our research, he can be justly
described as the father of the West Coast perennial agriculture. He
brought most of the nuts, fruits, grapes, berries, etc., that are now
commonly grown in the United States.

His main introductions are walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, filberts,
prune plums, the European culinary plum, cherries, pears, apples,
figs, strawberries, raspberries, Bing cherry, French prunes and

In one of his catalogs, he had 241 varieties of grapes. He brought in
wine grapes, table grapes, and raisin grapes, all of which formed the
industries. Felix brought in almost all the common varieties that we
grow and use today. When you drink Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon or
Petite Syrah or Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, those are French
varieties, or when you eat what’s now called a Thompson seedless grape
or raisin, that is a French variety that came originally from

Gillet kept researching and inventing and developing and hybridizing
his own things, and some became very successful. So, pretty much
everything that we eat in the perennial crops, except for citrus and
olives, we can thank Gillet for. He did asparagus and artichokes and
hops and raspberry and rhubarb, the whole nine yards.

 He was really focused on edibles, but he also did a fair amount of
ornamentals as well. We were working with the Rose Society and a whole
bunch of the heirloom roses turned out to have come from him.  He
brought about 40 to 50 different varieties of heirloom roses into the
United States. He was interested in pretty much anything that would
grow well in the Gold Country of the Sierra foothills.

He’d also send plants to other parts of the country to see how well
they grew. He provided information to USDA regularly about how these
different plants grew. He is credited with starting the
filbert/hazelnut industry of Oregon.

A now retired chief horticulturalist for the state of Oregon at Oregon
State University came here in the ‘60s, tracing back the history of
the nut industry and such in Oregon and the Northwest, and he traced
the entire nut, prune, chestnut industries, walnuts, filberts, and
wine grapes, all those crops right back to Nevada City, to Gillet’s

Gillet sent plants all over. We have receipts for stuff he shipped to
Russia and Michigan and the Southeast and all over California and all
over the Northwest. He was very active. He brought in Nonpareil almond
that is still the standard of the almond business a hundred plus years

(more online)

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