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Why are there so many types of apples? - Theresa Doud


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Have you ever walked into a grocery store and wondered where all the varieties of apples came from? You might find SnapDragon, Pixie Crunch, Cosmic Crisp, Jazz, or Ambrosia next to the more familiar Red Delicious and Granny Smith. So why are there so many types? Theresa Doud describes the ins and outs of breeding apples.

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Who was Johnny Appleseed? John Chapman, more commonly known as Johnny Appleseed, was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, in 1774. During the expansion of the United States to the west of Pennsylvania, John went ahead of the settlers and planted orchards of apple trees from seed. Unlike how he is usually depicted, Chapman was a nurseryman who was methodical about his plants and didn’t just scatter seeds all around. Many of the apples produced by these seedlings would be unrecognizable by today’s apple standards. Most of the early batches were used for baking and making cider. He later returned and sold this property to the settlers moving west. At the time of his death in 1845, he was reported to own around 1,200 acres of land and is buried in Fort Wayne, Indiana in Johnny Appleseed Memorial Park. 

Interested in grafting and how it works? The only way to insure an exact clone of a fruit tree is by using some of the wood from the original tree and grafting it to a rootstock. This method is also useful when repairing injured trees or top working (when you graft onto a larger tree). When grafting a tree you need to have a piece of scion wood from the original tree and a rootstock. There are several different types of rootstock. The type of rootstock used will depend on the size of the tree or the type of tree you want to graft. The scion wood is then cut and set into the rootstock and held there by bands and sometimes dipped in wax to protect the seal. These two pieces of wood fuse together over time and become one tree.

Where did apples come from? Domestic apples are thought to have originated from wild apples that are found in Kazakhstan. Botanists believe that modern apples originated from a species called Malus sieversii. These are wild apples that grow in central Asia - mainly Kazakhstan, but also around Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China. These apples are hardy, more disease- and insect-resistant and also taste bitter. Henry David Thoreau liked wild apples but commented that the occasional bite was “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.” The wild apples of Asia were thought to have been carried west either in saddle bags or in horse’s guts. The Persians and the Greeks passed it on to the Romans. The Romans spread their love of the fruit and that is how Europe became saturated with apples. 

There are several places around the world that have “collections” of thousands of apple varieties. In the United States, the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York contains more than 2,500 varieties of apples including some grown from the seeds of wild apples from Kazakhstan. They occasionally give tours of their plantings. In England, Brogdale Collections is located in Faversham, England and has a collection of 2,200 varieties of apples. Brogdale contains the National Fruit Collection of England which also has 550 varieties of pears, 285 varieties of cherries, 337 varieties of plums, 19 varieties of quince, 42 varieties of nuts, 318 varieties of currants, and 4 varieties of medlars.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Theresa Doud
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce
  • Director Tea Stražičić
  • Animator Tea Stražičić
  • Producer Draško Ivezić
  • Composer Jure Buljević
  • Sound Designer Jure Buljević
  • Narrator Julianna Zarzycki

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