Today I learned a new twist to the likely relationship between Toole’s Heirloom and the Bouie Plum. The ReStore manager at the Habitat for Humanity affiliate that I work for is a distant relative of Rustle Moore, the man who was telling me about the Bouie plum. I asked her if she had ever seen one, and she said yes, many times. They used to be common, but there were slightly different types of them because people, especially among African Americans were passing around seeds as well as root suckers. She said that back in the day every black family had these big (Chickasaw type) plum trees because no-one had money to buy store bought fruit. People figured out that with wild plums the bigger the growth habit of the tree, the bigger the plums. So they were constantly planting the seeds from the biggest plums from the biggest trees. The Bouie family did this and they had several good trees. Their trees were so big that people started calling them “shade tree plums”. She said that she remembered from when she was a little girl that these shade tree plums were so popular and common they started coming up in the woods near farm houses. Then all of a sudden people got used to buying all their fruit at the store, and people stopped growing the shade tree plums.
I was showing her Toole’s Heirloom Plum, and she said that she was nearly 100% sure that its a descendant from the Bouie shade tree plum strain. She said the sheer size of my tree that’s only seven years old and the two toned nature of the fruit and shape of the leaves and color of the bark make her think that it’s one of the plums that family developed. She went own to say that the other reason she thinks Toole’s Heirloom is a direct descendent of the Bouie plum if not the original is because John L. Moore (Russle Moore’s father) and my dad were friends and that they traded fish, game, garden produce and the like with each other all the time. (That part I knew.) She said that John L.'s wife was originally a Bouie, and that John L. had gotten into raising Bouie plums and crossing the biggest ones to make bigger plums. Arliesha said that there was no doubt in her mind that Mr. Mark (my dad) got his plum trees from John L. Moore but since John L. raised plums from seeds, my dad’s plums were probably genetically distinct.
What I know is that my dad had two trees. One tree was a lot bigger than the other, and the fruit was bigger too. Arliesha said that Mr. John L would have hooked my dad up right and given him two distinct strains of shade tree plums for cross pollination had they been root suckers, but most likely they were seedlings. So bottom line is that we will never know if this tree is the original Bouie variety since both John L. and my dad are dead. It does not sound like there was one variety of clones called Bouie plums but a whole of closely related trees spread all over the county. We can say with reasonable certainty that Toole’s Heirloom arose from the Bouie Plum line and is representative of the shade tree plum. The other important thing I learned from Arliesha is that the older generation of local African Americans will better know what I’m talking when asking about good plum strains if I use the terminology of “shade tree plums” rather than Chickasaw type improved plums. That will be important going forward in trying to identify, locate and salvage more of these local strains before they are lost completely. The other important thing I learned is that these African American families were not just keeping specific good trees going through cloning. They were actively planting seeds from good trees being pollinized by good trees in an effort to make better trees and that they had been actively improving the Chickasaw plum for generations.
So here’s the question. What’s most ethical to do? Keep the Toole’s Heirloom name or go with the Bouie name? I’m going back and forth on this issue. Someone else might have a “Bouie plum” out there that’s a bit different from this one. (I hope they do.) So using the old name could mean multiple very similar plums with the exact same name. Still, if this is the last of the Bouie line, it would be a shame for this variety to become completely disconnected from the family and community that played the biggest role in developing it. At present I lean towards keeping this one distinct by keeping the “Toole’s Heirloom” name but work with the Georgia Southern Botanical Garden and a local African American history museum called “The Willow Hill Museum” to make sure that this plum’s history with the Bouie family is documented and preserved.
I’m planning to invite Rustle Moor and any other Bouie family descendants who want to come along over to my house to look at the tree to see if they can identify it more specifically. I also hope to get pictures of them with the tree and some more family history in connection to the Bouie plum strain with perhaps specific names of individuals who worked on improving the plum. My goal is for the Georgia Southern Botanical Garden and Willow Hill Museum to work together to create an exhibit that documents this part of Bulloch County history.