Every Known Fruit as It Was in 1886- According to USDA Watercolor Project

Even with less variety back then, there are some fairly obscure fruits depicted here.

Between 1886 and 1942 a unique project sought to bring the natural world into greater focus. The USDA hired 21 artists to depict in watercolors colors every fruit known to man at the time. This was long before commercial breeding, supermarkets, and genetic modifications made significant changes to what we eat. These artists created a visual database of fruits from all over the globe from custard apples to baels to cashews.

Paw paws fruits are native the Midwest and Southern states of the U.S. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection

Long before color photography was invented, let alone economical, the study of fruits was best depicted in watercolor drawings. At the time scientific drawings were long appreciated for their ability to convey the textures and growth patterns that aren’t always so obvious in photographs. These types of drawings are still used, though they increasingly rare.

The bael fruit is native to India. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection

In all there were 7,584 pieces of artwork created for this database, of which over 3,000 are of apples. That’s a lot of apples!

A citrus hybrid from Florida. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
The “Amanda” variety of strawberries. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
Pennsylvania black raspberries. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection

The database served to help classify the different kinds of fruit and also to create regional fruit industries, something the U.S. is known for today. Through pomology, the science of growing fruit, the most amount of food would be grown in the correct conditions for each species – something which was desperately needed during the Great Depression and World War II. The trend for more and more produce continued long after the war years as the population expanded during the 1950s.

The mangosteen is native to Southeast Asia. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
The Queensland nut, known today as the macadamia nut. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
Depiction of the fungal infection scald on American cranberries. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
The tamarind fruit is indigenous to Africa, but is cultivated in many parts of the world. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
The acca fruit comes from South America and is also known as guavasteen. Via/ USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection

We have much different ways of tracking species today and they usually don’t involve watercolors. But, these images sure are beautiful to look at. Plus, some of these fruits are still uncommon in the U.S., so there’s still much to be learned from these antique drawings.