Wild apples Cornwall

Blooming wild apple tree in May near Redruth

Those of you who follow the online journal: Apples and People, may have read a recent article about the magnificent project ‘Some Interesting Apples’ that William Arnold and James Fergusson have been conducting the past few years. It’s fantastic to hear about them researching the wild apple trees that surround us, focusing mainly on the miner’s tracks around Redruth and Camborne.

Prior to the development and breeding work for commercial rootstocks, many apple tree growers would use chance seedlings around their farms and countryside to graft onto their chosen varieties. There is a lot to be said about this approach. You won’t end up with neat rows of apple trees all of the same size and breadth and vigour like some might aim for in their orchard. You may not know of the tree’s ability to resist certain plant diseases. But the use of wild seedling trees in particular, also of seed grown apples, can help ensure we are using a diverse range of genetics in our apple orchards that are continually adapting to the current climate and environmental changes.

Wild apple tree nr Hayle

I’ve been growing apple seeds for several years and similarly investigating how we can diversify our orchards. First by using seed grown apples both for alternate rootstock, but also just to experiment with what apples result. Seed grown trees are obviously much slower than grafted apple trees to reach fruit bearing age but with much more talk about and research into the importance of diversity and resilience in our local food crops there is an obvious concern to be had by all this focus on the same small number of rootstocks used by apple tree nurseries. Wild apple trees and the use of seedlings grown in the wild or by seed seems to be a good additional practice to help create more resilience in our orchards. The other approach is to add more ‘pitcher’ trees in our orchards, those grown on their own roots for example Cornish aromatic, Ben’s Red, Devonshire Quarrendon and Sweet Larks all have the capacity to grow from hard wood cuttings much like you do to propagate currant bushes or a rose bush.

Read more in the article above about how in America wild seedling trees were being used and harvested long ago by Johnny Appleseed, and then how William and James’s hugely useful research into our local wild apple trees and fruit can help us ensure a good genetic diversity for our apples into the future. They may also inspire you to check out your local apple trees, to go scrumping and taste the fruit and then maybe to graft your own variety taken from the wild.

The Orchard Network have a crab apple protect currently in process whereby wild and more formally planted crab apple trees are being logged, monitored and contributing to studies on this very subject.

Another study looking at distribution of wild apples – in particular crab apples Malus slyvestris rather than apples that are seedlings from discarded named apples – took place in Scotland and culiminated in the following write up: Scotland wild apples p21-29 wild apple ecology SF spring-summer 2020.pdf

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