Almonds are among the first trees to blossom in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, often blooming while snow still coats the surrounding hills.

Ethnobotanist Donn L. Todt and anthropologist Nan Hannon have written that before pears became dominant, orchardists experimented in the late 1880s with several nut and fruit trees in search of a crop suited to the Rogue Valley climate.

One horticulturist involved was Orlando Coolidge, a nursery owner who in 1886 planted 35 acres in orchard trees, mainly almonds, above Ashland’s North Main Street. That’s how Almond Street got its name. Swiss immigrant Peter Britt, pioneer photographer, horticulturist and winemaker, also planted almond trees in Jacksonville.

Almonds never became a commercial crop in the Rogue Valley, but the hardy trees survived. Almond tree roots dig deeply into the soil, allowing them to resist summer’s drought. Todt and Hannon note that Steller’s and scrub jays have scattered seedlings from the old orchards, and almonds sprout today among other trees and shrubs and along nearby roadsides and fields.

Blossoms still freshen Almond Street in early spring when survivors and descendants of the Coolidge orchard come into bloom.

Source: Todt, Donn L. and Hannon, Nan, “Almonds Bloom Early,” Southern Oregon Heritage Today, Vol. 3, No. 2, February 2001.

— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.