Mission Heritage Fruit Tree Project

In 2004, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum approached Desert Survivors to assist with growing the trees for this unique project. The concept involved reproducing the oldest known heirloom fruit trees in southeastern Arizona and northern Sonora and Baja.  The goal was to find trees that may have been grown by Spanish missionaries who first introduced them to the region in the 1680s. These trees were reproduced by vegetative propagation to ensure that they are identical genetic copies of the original plants. Currently, we are growing an assortment of pomegranates, figs, quince, lima, and mission grapes. Some of the original trees have persisted on private properties, while others have been found growing in wild, riparian areas.

Jesus Garcia-Yanez and Robert Emanuel of the Desert Museum were instrumental in starting the program and provided much of the early direction.  Jesus was responsible for obtaining genetic stock for most of these trees and has extensively spoken about this project to the public.  Other significant partners and leaders in the project over the years have included the Santa Cruz Heritage Alliance, Jonathon Mabry, Tumacacori National Historical Park, Native Seed SEARCH, and the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace.  

The orchard at Tumacacori National Historic Park was replanted for the first time in over 200 years in the spring of 2007, using trees grown at Desert Survivors as part of this project. Then in 2012, additional plantings occurred at the historic Mission Gardens under the oversight of the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, along the historic banks of the Santa Cruz River at the base of Sentinel Peak.

Sweet quince (Cydonia oblonga)

Mission Fruit Trees are offered seasonally throughout the year, especially during our annual plant sales. These are the following species and cultivars that we grow:


Pomegranate (Punica granatum)