In search for ancestry, science finds old apple tree is one-of-a-kind – The Reflector

Posted: September 2, 2020 at 10:56 am

A scientific search for its ancestral tree has led directly back to Vancouvers Old Apple Tree. In recent years, genetic testing has become a popular tool because people seek scientific clues about their ancestors. Vancouver Urban Forestry and the National Park Service were looking for much of the same type of information when they and a volunteer teamed up with Washington State University to answer the question: exactly what type of apple tree is the Old Apple Tree?

As it turns out, the tree is a genetically unique one-of-a-kind.

Since the Old Apple Tree was planted in 1826, the type of apple it produces has been unknown. Most often it has been referred to as an English Greening Apple which is a generic term used for a European old-world apple.

In later 2019, Paul Stasz, a volunteer with Vancouver Urban Forestry and the National Parks Service, contacted researchers at WSU-Pullman to see if the Old Apple Tree could be a part of the universitys Apple Genome Project. DNA tissue samples were carefully collected and sent to WSUs Cameron Peace, a principal investigator sequencing the worldwide family tree of apple trees. With its large database, the project can identify ancestors of specific apples.

The results from the project are now in and the genetic testing confirmed that the Old Apple Tree is not identical to any other known apple tree and has no known parent-child relationships in the extensive database. The closest relationship appears to be a distant one to the 500-year-old variety, French Reinette. French Reinette is a close direct ancestor of most modern varieties and also a parent or grandparent to many heirloom varieties.

Planted from a seed at the historical Fort Vancouver, the Old Apple Tree is considered the start of the apple industry in Washington State. Its death earlier this summer at the age of 194, was precipitated by a spiral crack in its trunk.

However, thanks to its unique genetics, the Old Apple Tree lives on. Vancouver Urban Forestry and the National Parks Service have been planning for the inevitable by nurturing several root suckers, which are now small saplings growing around the Old Apple Tree. One sapling near the center of the original tree will be cultivated and will inherit the title of Old Apple Tree, given its genetic makeup. Its the same root system, but with a new stem. The remaining saplings will be transplanted to the National Park Service's historic orchard at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

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In search for ancestry, science finds old apple tree is one-of-a-kind - The Reflector

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