Zoom October 2012
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Words: Michael Isenbek Photo: Stephen Lang
The apple needs no introduction. It is a staple of a child’s lunch box, pie fodder, banisher of the doctor and much much more. Botanically speaking, the part of the apple we eat is not a true fruit, but a hypanthium, a fusion of the apple tree’s numerous flower parts. The actual fruit is the inedible apple core, surrounding the seeds (called pips in this case). The apple’s ancestral home is central Asia, in what is now Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and the Xinjiang region of China. The fruit has an interesting quirk: Each pip produces a completely different type of apple. A pip from a pleasantly sweet apple could grow into a tree that produces horrifically bitter fruit, and vice versa. The sweet varieties, which now number about 7,500, became the main reason apples spread all the way to the Far East and the New World, according to scholars. The only way to preserve a sweet variety is to graft—take a bud from the desired tree and insert it into a young developing tree, creating a clone.