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Tree named after Byrd

August 15, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. - In his 40 years in the U.S. Senate, Robert Byrd has had everything from a high school to a federal courthouse named in his honor.

It took until Tuesday, however, for the West Virginia Democrat to have his name on a piece of fruit.

"I never expected that," Byrd said.

The United States Department of Agriculture on Tuesday dedicated a new hybrid plum in Byrd's honor.

The "Bluebyrd" plum is designed to grow in the colder climates of the Appalachian region and is resistant to brown rot, according to the USDA.

The naming of Byrd's plum coincided with the 20th anniversary of the USDA research center that Byrd helped bring to Kearneysville.

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The Appalachian Fruit Research Center opened in 1979 but Byrd's efforts to have the facility built in the Eastern Panhandle began in 1963, Byrd said.

A budget amendment by Byrd that would have provided $25,000 for a feasibility study for the center was dropped by Congress, but Byrd later secured $200,000 in planning funds.

Byrd got a $7.5 million budget allotment in 1975 that allowed the facility to be built in Kearneysville.

The center now has an 18-member research staff with 40 full-time support workers to study issues such as fruit production, harvesting and ways to maximize productivity.

The 500-acre facility has plantings of apples, peaches, pears, plums, blackberries and other fruits.

Work on the Bluebyrd plum tree began in 1968 by Harold W. Fogle and the tree will be available to growers next spring, Bluebyrd developer Dr. Ralph Scorza said.

This year's test crop of Bluebyrd plums will not be ripe until September but Scorza said they appear to have done well despite the drought conditions.

"I think there's definite interest from area orchards in this plum," Scorza said.

Byrd is among those interested in sampling his namesake.

"I'm looking forward to it. This is something everyone can enjoy," Byrd said.

His visit to the Appalachian Fruit Research Center Tuesday also gave Byrd the opportunity to check on the progress of a Beech tree he and his wife, Erma, planted at the center's original dedication ceremony.

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