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Apple tree sex

We watched a program about apples last night. And it was interesting. The British are whoop-de-gaga about apples. They eat billions of them every year, in hundreds of varieties.

So. If you eat a Granny Smith for lunch and then you plant the seeds, the resulting trees will bear apples that are not a Granny Smith. In fact, each pip will grow into a unique tree.

Why is this? For the same reason your second child is probably not a lot like your first and neither of them are exactly like you: apples are genetically complicated. They’re the most genetically complicated fruit of all. There’s a mommy tree and a daddy tree and they each contribute genes in near infinite combination. There are more than 7,000 recognized varieties of apple, which doesn’t count all the unrecognized apple varieties that sucked.

Now, I am a complete horticultural illiterate, so y’all probably knew this already, but I didn’t.

So every single Red Delicious or Pink Lady is grown from cuttings off one tree (or, you know, cuttings off of cuttings off of cuttings) grafted onto a different rootstock. Turns out, we figured out how to graft plants back in the days of the Pharaohs.

The program visited the old lady with the original Bramley in her back yard (Bramley is the most popular cooking apple in Britain). Upwards of two hundred years old and still going strong (the tree, not the lady). When she realized the tree was actually growing in the garden next door, she bought the house next door.

The original Granny Smith, by the way, was discovered by Mrs Smith of New South Wales growing at a garbage dump. Word.

And then there’s the dude who found the Next Big Apple growing on the shoulder of the interstate (well, the A4260. They don’t have interstates here). Somebody cruising down the highway eating an apple, tossed the core and — walla — honking great apple tree with especially nice fruit.

Britons: potty about apples.


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: December 20, 2012, 11:42 pm

There are worse things to be potty about. Apples (well, most apples–Delicious taste to me like sweetened cotton wool, but they can be persuaded to become edible apple butter) are tasty, good for you, easy to store, carry with you and eat with limited mess. Quite cool, altogether.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 20, 2012, 11:59 pm

I’ve always disliked the Delicious varieties. Mealy and flavorless. Was a Granny Smith kind of a gal.

In recent years, my tastes became more subtle and I got into Pink Ladies.

But, weirdly, I haven’t eaten apples much since I’ve been here.

Comment from thefritz
Time: December 21, 2012, 12:07 am

ya know what’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?

Half a worm.

Comment from Oceania
Time: December 21, 2012, 12:28 am

Apple tree here with 3-4 different varieties on it, and a branch with apricots. Grafted.

Comment from Redd
Time: December 21, 2012, 12:49 am

I saw a program where people find abandoned apple trees, gather the fruit, and make cider. In another program they had Henry the 8th’s original cherry orchard and these new hybrid cherry trees. They are low to the ground so you don’t fall off the ladder and die. The trees are so heavy with cherries they are beautiful.

Comment from USCitizen
Time: December 21, 2012, 1:02 am

Isn’t ‘walla’ mis-spelled with a “v”?

Comment from RushBabe
Time: December 21, 2012, 1:36 am

Oh, Weasie, you’re a woman after my own heart. I too had always been a Granny Smith gal until I tried a Pink Lady. We have a Kroger superstore grand opening going on and they’re offering gorgeous Grannies and Pink Ladies for .89/lb. We must’ve bought 50 pounds worth. My 13-yr-old eats two for breakfast and two for lunch.

Comment from Mrs Compton
Time: December 21, 2012, 1:58 am


Comment from JeffS
Time: December 21, 2012, 2:55 am

I love apples as well, but the bestest use that I EVAH found for them was as impromptu hand grenades.

Back in the day when you could buy Real Fire Crackers, I’d take apples, core them out, wrap a bit of plastic around a salute, light, throw. Instant gratification!

Slightly rotten apples were effective in grossing out friends. Green apples were best used against mortal enemies …. but only the smaller one, else the fruit absorbed the blast.

Yes, I was a horrible child growing up. Why do you ask?


Comment from Deborah
Time: December 21, 2012, 4:33 am

Does Badger House have an apple tree? We had an apple tree at our little farm, but we’d only get a good crop every four or five years (never enough rain). The apples were about the size of a cue ball, so they were a lot of work.

The Delicious apples tasted a lot better when I was a kid. I think the apple growers bred out all the flavor trying to create a prettier and more sturdy apple. Husband and I eat mostly Galas now. Our favorite treat: popcorn, sharp cheddar cheese, and sliced apples. The flavors are nicely complementary, and it’s a quick easy supper.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: December 21, 2012, 5:08 am

Oh but genetic engineering is horrific and evil and must be stopped!!!

Comment from Mitchell
Time: December 21, 2012, 5:29 am

The Honeycrisp apple is absolutely the BEST one, bar none. It’s firm, extra juicy and sweet but with a twist of tartness. If you like Pink Lady or Gala you’ll flip over Honeycrisp. They’re only seasonally available for now though.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 21, 2012, 11:41 am

We have a plum tree in the bottom of the garden, but there’s a very small abandoned apple orchard in the field next door. Problem is, that’s one of the fields they keep rams in. For one thing, the rams can be a bit frisky and inquisitive. For another, their keeper knocks the apples down for them in the Fall, so it would be like stealing.

Well, it would be stealing.

Comment from Ken
Time: December 21, 2012, 12:01 pm

Delicious apples are pretty hit-or-miss commercially, but the Golden Delicious tree in my back yard produces really good apples. Now if I can just sort out the brown spot and the alternate bearing….

Comment from Redd
Time: December 21, 2012, 1:03 pm

Get a cherry tree!


Comment from Redd
Time: December 21, 2012, 1:08 pm

Huh. Looking around the internet, it appears that they sell dwarf cherry trees at Aldi or Tesco for 4-7 lbs. Such a deal!

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: December 21, 2012, 1:15 pm

True, Redd… but don’t get one from Chris Bowers. Not exactly ‘approved by the badger’ that supplier!

Comment from Deborah
Time: December 21, 2012, 1:36 pm

Plums! We had wild plum thickets all over our 40 acres in the panhandle. Same problem as the apple tree (and peaches)—never enough rain. But we could usually get plums enough for jelly to last until the next crop. And the quail got the rest.

The citrus trees growing here in south Texas leave me amazed. Our landlord brings us the juiciest grapefruit, limes, and tiny seed-filled oranges (impossible to just peel and eat). I use my lime press to squeeze the little oranges—straight into a cup of hot tea! So good. And of course the limes go straight into a cup of cold gin and tonic. Not to mention Salty Dogs 🙂

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: December 21, 2012, 2:13 pm

My wife’s all-time favorite American dessert is a baked apple which has been cored into a cup ( I use an Ice-Tea spoon which has a long handle and a very small head). I take out the core and the stars (?) around the seeds, just leaving the bottom of the apple intact. Then I peel the top third of the apple. Next make a cup of aluminum foil (doubled is safer) around the apple. Fill the apple 2/3 or a little more or more with maple syrup and (depending on the apple and the mood of the chef a pinch of cinnamon and a drop of butter). Finally I bake them. As to time and temperature, well -this being Texas and me being Texas Man® kinda sorta- I usually put them on the grill but I would guess that this works out to about 400°F for 20 minutes or so.

Now, having sung for my dessert, can I ask the gardeners here a question? Family legend has it that my great-grand-father was a very good grafter and this gave him time, chance, and talent to play with the apple tree in the backyard of his Sears-brand house. Supposedly he had 3 or 4 kinds of apples and a peach or two grafted onto it. Depending on the alcohol levels of my great-uncle and grandfather and the gullibility level of the little boy asking there might have been a cherry hung on there too. Can this kind of thing be done? The only tree I have available to work with is a flowering Bradford pear…. but if it’s at all possible, I’d love to give it a try. I keep hoping that advances in technology will make up for lack of talent and skill. Can it be done?

Comment from Tibby
Time: December 21, 2012, 2:19 pm

We live on the Gulf Coast,(Louisiana) we’ve got oranges, limes, kumquats, tangerines, plums, pecan, fig, and Meyers lemons. Getting a persimmon and peach tree for Christmas. I love it. Can’t do cherries or apples well, altho I hear tell of an apple variety that’s supposed to work down here.

Comment from Redd
Time: December 21, 2012, 3:41 pm

I really like that apple graphic. For those of us who have absolutely no artistic talent at all, it nicely depicts the highlights and shading. I may try to paint it later.

Comment from mojo
Time: December 21, 2012, 3:59 pm

Oregon: Blackberries everywhere. Seriously, you can’t turn around without backing into a blackberry bush.

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: December 21, 2012, 4:42 pm

Mojo is correct about the blackberries. They’re worse than kudzu! No idea why our state fruit is the pear.

Some Veg, it can indeed.

On our new half-billion dollar campus there are fruit trees that go back to pioneer days. I’ve arranged to adopt them.


Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: December 21, 2012, 4:56 pm

Oregon has really, really good wild pears, but yeah, blackberries. If humanity vanished overnight, the whole Willamette valley would be one big blackberrry bush.

Comment from bad cat robot
Time: December 21, 2012, 5:36 pm

Washington state has the blackberry plague too. You know they are ebil communist blackberries, right? Siberian blackberry plants were imported by fruit farmers, they of course escaped and are now trying to take over. The *native* blackberry vines are much sneakier. Less fruit of course, hence the imports, low to the ground, and the vines are like wire. I plan to use native blackberry vines for snares and zombie tripwires in the coming Apocalypse.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 21, 2012, 5:42 pm

Redd, sweetie, that’s a photograph. And I stole it.

Our hedge is blackberry insanity, too.

Comment from Deborah
Time: December 21, 2012, 5:56 pm

@bad cat robot: you might work on a idea of a blackberry vine wreath (of sorts), which can be unrolled like accordion wire and placed around the perimeter of your homestead. If you weave the wreath in an a figure-8 pattern (good rope skills), it should pop apart perfectly and not tangle.

Comment from AliceH
Time: December 21, 2012, 6:09 pm

Unfinished business: Does that hedgehog have a name yet, Bob?

Comment from Redd
Time: December 21, 2012, 6:11 pm

Of course, it’s a photograph.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 21, 2012, 6:33 pm

Still, if you ever had designs on painting an apple with Photoshop, this thread is kind of neat.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 21, 2012, 6:44 pm

Scroll down for the pictures.

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: December 21, 2012, 6:59 pm


We are leaning towards ‘Lulu.’

Comment from Redd
Time: December 21, 2012, 8:15 pm

Well, I was going to try it with watercolor, but thanks for the link. Just skimming it, the info appears to apply to all painting, so it is nice to have as a reference.

Thanks, again.


Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: December 21, 2012, 11:23 pm

It’s very likely true, Some Vegetable. Many apple trees for domestic cultivation have scions from several varieties grafted onto a rootstock and some mix in a pear or two, as well.

The Prunus family is pretty tolerant, so all sort of family members can be grown on all sorts of rootstocks.

Comment from little, little
Time: December 22, 2012, 1:32 am

I know a fig nut who grafted probably over 50 different varieties of fig onto one tree. Obviously, it was rather large. He enclosed it in a wooden frame covered with plywood panels over the winter with 55 gallon barrels full of water to dampen the interior temperature swings and protect against extreme low temperatures. Then, in spring, he replaced the plywood panels with screening to protect the figs from birds, June Bugs, etcetera. That man does love him some figs.

Comment from Pavel
Time: December 28, 2012, 2:53 am

I always learn the most interesting things on this blog. I had no idea about the mommy trees and daddy trees and cuttings and graftings.

Comment from car seat saver
Time: October 24, 2014, 5:36 pm

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