Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Apple seeds

The apples on the tree in my garden are nearly ready to pick, which is appropriate timing because Lammas – the festival of the start of the harvest – is only a few days away, on August 1.

My tree grows Worcester pearmains, which are eating apples rather than cookers, although I usually cook a lot anyway because I always get a bumper crop.

One thing that always fascinates me is that if you grow an apple seed, the fruits of the new tree will be different from the original tree – quite possibly a new variety altogether. The scientific reason for this is that apples trees are highly cultivated and also reproduce through pollination, so the apple seed will be a cross between varieties of strains. There is only a 5% chance that a tree grown this way will produce pleasant fruit.

In Britain, our native tree is the crab apple, which is small and bitter. It is the ancestor of the cultivated varieties we grow today and was the rootstock on which new varieties were grafted when brought from Europe.

I’ve always liked the American legend of Johnny Appleseed. He was a Christian missionary who introduced the apple tree to large parts of the US. Stories tell of him wandering barefoot across the land, spreading apple seeds as he went, and showing kindness to the animals and people around him. The truth is that he planted orchards rather than sowing seeds randomly, but it is a lovely tale.


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