Old Apple Tree Offers Glimpse of Genetic Past and Future

Old Apple Tree Offers Glimpse of Genetic Past and Future

an old apple tree - before and now

With high summer behind us and fall on the horizon, I’m looking forward to the season of one of my favourite fruits: apples! And when I bite into my first hand-picked Ambrosia this year, I will say a mental “cheers” to a recently fallen relative — the Old Apple Tree of Vancouver, Washington.
CNN reports that the venerable community landmark died this summer, at a staggering age of 194. Planted by Hudson’s Bay traders in 1826, the Old Apple Tree not only formed the centre of a park and annual festival devoted to it but was regarded by the region’s apple specialists as the “matriarch” of the Pacific Northwest’s apple industry — in spirit, if not in genetic fact.
“A DNA analysis performed by experts at Washington State University’s Apple Genome Project revealed that the Old Apple Tree is genetically unique.

‘The Old Apple Tree is not identical to any other named variety in a worldwide collaborative data set of several thousand apple variety DNA profiles,’ Cameron Peace, a professor of tree fruit genetics at WSU told CNN.

‘The Old Apple Tree is therefore unique, one-of-a-kind. It will carry genetic factors not present in other heirloom or modern cultivars,’ Peace added.
Scientists were able to establish that the Old Apple Tree is almost certainly a grandchild of the French Reinette, a 500-year-old variety dubbed ‘the grandmother of all apple cultivars,’ Peace explained. The French Reinette is a close direct ancestor of most modern varieties and also a parent or grandparent to many heirloom varieties.”
Descendants of the tree dot the area — cuttings had been given to attendees of the Old Apple Tree festival to plant in their own gardens since 1984. Plus, as the original tree died, new saplings began growing out of the old root system. One of the saplings will stay on the site, becoming essentially the reincarnation of its mother!
Preserving apple diversity is a serious task, and it warms my heart that one of the founding trees of the North American gene pool has given her adoring apple fans one last gift — the continuation of her legacy! I’ll eat to that.