I didn’t know about this apple but I saw it looking so cute in the vending machine in the Plant Science building so I went for it. Throwback Monday, as they say!
It’s small and pinkish red on a custard yellow background, and it’s got yellow stripes and white lenticels. The shape is really good! It’s pentagonal from top and bottom, and almost circular from the side, excepting for the calyx and stem cups. It even has an adorable little waist! I hope you can see from the picture how cute this one is. I’m really excited to eat it. It’s not too shiny and not too dull. It looks ideal.
Mmmm! Wow! The flavor is really interesting! It definitely tastes stored, with that sort of sugary wet flavor, but it tastes spicy too, like bell peppers or mango maybe. The skin is medium thickness, and the texture of the flesh is sort of mushy, presumably from storage, so it’s hard to know for sure what its noise or snap is like. The juice is sugary and dries my mouth. There is no tartness, only sugar and vegetable spice. The flavor is also very up front, with only a small afterkick. The vegetable flavor gets stronger closer to the core and makes me think of lettuce. There is sweetness throughout but it is sweetest just at the skin.
So, this apple was pretty good! Really pretty and pretty tasty! Not the #1 top apple but a good snack for a midmorning free time moment!
Ok, so, shoot. I’m trying so much to make my blog have disqus comments and it just isn’t working. I thought it worked for one post but I just learned that the only reason that other post had an option to answer it was because the title had a question mark in it, I guess that is a native thing to tumblr? I do not know how comments work! Help me!
If you’ve talked to me over the past season about what I do at work, I’ve probably given a sort of rosy view of what it’s like and usually it is pretty rosy! (Haha get it Rosaceae???) But there are some things that if you talked to me on the day I did them I’d probably grumble a bit. One of those things is chopping rootsuckers. Rootsuckers get lopped off with loppers at the soil line from around lots of trees, because they get in the way and they’re a super problem. If you look in the picture that I put up, you might see that it looks like there are branches coming out from the soil all around the trunk. That’s rootsuckers!
Why are there rootsuckers?
Let’s backtrack a little bit before we answers this!
Why do plants grow in predictable shapes????
Imagine an apple tree (or any plant mostly!) and think about its general shape (this is going to be very general and YMMV for any particular plant but I just want to give you an idea of where I’m coming from). Most plants are taller than they are wide, right? And most branches also! Longer than they are wide! Here’s why. The tip of the shoot is made of a special kind of tissue called meristem that can divide its cells and develop and grow. There is meristem in the very end, or apex of the shoot, and we call it apical meristem, but there’s also meristem near the tips of the rest of the bits of the shoot, which we call lateral meristem, that can also grow and divide. The reason plant sections get to be longer usually from the central bit and have shorter side bits is…hormones! Yeah! Plants have hormones! We call them plant growth regulators and they’re a bit different from the kind that we have. But they work in a similar way: they get produced in some tissues and circulated out to other tissues and the effect varies with the dose, etc etc! So the hormone auxin is involved in convincing the little bits of meristem that the apex should grow a lot, and it flows down to the closer-in bits of the branch to convince the little bits of lateral meristem that they should just hang out for a bit and not develop so much. It’s super complicated and you could look up more information on the internet if you’re curious about how awesome plants are. It’s called apical dominance and it’s a cool topic!! For, like, science fair or something! Or just if you feel like playing with houseplants!
Because get this- if you take off the apical meristem, it stops producing auxin, which stops telling the lateral meristems to chill, and they grow like CRAZY and compete to become the new apex. This is the principle we use when we prune trees- we take off some branches, and this actually encourages the plants to be more productive. If a plant makes its fruit on its one-year-old spurs, for example, we can take out old wood to encourage new spurs to grow and get more fruits. In our tall spindle pruning systems (like in our high-density block) we usually try to preserve the central leader (that’s the main trunk at the top) at all costs, because if it breaks out, the lower branches go crazy with growth and focus on getting tall instead of making fruit.
But not all plants are the same at this thing! It can really vary by cultivar. Some plants really want to grow and as soon as you take off their apex they’re gonna make a mad dash for it with tons of limbs, and some plants are more relaxed. This is part of what we talk about when we talk about vigor. Vigor is a characteristic of a particular variety, and it’s a little different from, although related to, size. Some apple trees want to get really big, and some don’t mind staying small. That’s why rootstocks are described in their dwarfing skills by percentages- if this rootstock takes a tree down to 1/3 of the size it wants to be, it is a dwarfing rootstock but the tree might still be larger than a less-dwarfing rootstock that’s supporting a variety that likes to get large. A large tree is usually more vigorous than a small one, but even small trees can be really vigorous if they’re the kind that want to replace EVERY BRANCH YOU TAKE OFF with A MILLION BRANCHES.
Let’s think about rootstocks! Then we will know why they make rootsuckers. A rootstock gets another tree grafted onto it, and usually just one original limb, the “nurse limb” is left, to keep the nutrients flowing into the scion. As soon as the scion is healthy and growing and the tree is popped into the ground in its in-ground home, the nurse limb is chopped off and the rootstock is in a weird position. Some rootstocks are fine to just accept the scion as their apex and the auxin coming down from the new scion is plenty to chill out their vigor. They might make no rootsuckers at all. But some rootstocks are MAD vigorous, and they don’t take kindly to being told to just chill out. They feel decapitated or whatever! I don’t know! They worry that they don’t have a trunk or branches or anything! Now, of course, the sensible thing to do would be to realize there’s a tree up there and just chill out, but we can’t always chill out when we should! As I mentioned earlier, often when the apical bud is removed, the rest of the limbs go CRAZY with competition trying to all be the new main stem. That’s what rootsuckers are. They come from the roots of the rootstock and they suck energy out of it and just shoot up like little trunks all around the trunk of the grafted tree. I’ve never seen any get reproductive, just vegetative growth, but I don’t know how far they’re willing to take it.
So we go outside and chop off the rootsuckers. The vigorous rootstock says ‘oh shoot my apex just got removed AGAIN’ and makes rootsuckers to compensate. We chop them off. The cycle gets repeated. It’s crazy how much effort these trees are willing to put into rootsuckers. They’re so pointless. Plus, they get in the way of everything, including herbicides on the ground, and regular pruning, and harvesting, and life, and they might not be a vacuum but they just suck. They can be feet away from the tree they’re from, and they can be really pretty, like some of our Bud rootstocks, which have pretty pink and purple wood and leaves, and all sorts of things. But some of them are tough, and all of them need to get chopped off low down, usually more than once for each tree, and, oh man. It’s tough.
That’s that. You know everything now.
I haven’t reviewed one of these yet! Oh good! So this apple is a Pink Lady, or I’m not actually sure if it’s technically a Pink Lady, it might just be a regular Cripps Pink. It’s a lovely apple! It’s pink on a green background, round from above and below, and a rounded square from the side. This one looks like it has two low shoulders and three high ones, but honestly it’s hard to tell where the shoulders are. It’s that round! This apple is small and has very smooth skin, with lenticels bright and slightly roughened around the calyx but just clear pink skin by the shoulders. There is a little bit of sooty blotch in the calyx, aww!
Mm, the skin is thick and slightly tart, and the flesh is medium in texture, not too snappy but not quite mushy. There is a bit of juice. The flesh is just on the green side of cream-colored. But, shoot! The flavor is great, tart and sweet and fruity. The sweetness is light, like white sugar and not honey, and there is very faint vegetable taste behind it, almost not there. The tartness is a bit cloying in a way the sweetness is not, and my lips feel thirsty from eating this apple. As I’m about three-quarters of the way through it I feel like I’ve been eating a sour apple candy, even though the first few bites tasted much gentler. Maybe it’s because this apple is cold, but it doesn’t smell like an apple as much as it does maybe melon.
Overall experience was yummy and the texture was just ok! Yum! I like apples.
Thanks for bearing with me (haha get it?) as I discuss fruit tree production science a little! I wanted to talk a bit about two questions today to follow up on the last sciencey post. I talked last time about where the scion trees (the varieties of apple you eat) come from and where the varieties come from in the first place, as well as why we would want to graft trees. Now I want to talk about where rootstocks come from as well as how grafting works a bit! Only then and after a tiny bit of physiology talk will you understand my frustration with rootsuckers.
What are rootstocks and where are they from?????
Rootstocks come from the same places cultivars come from usually! That is, original varietal stock comes from breeders, but each tree usually comes from a nursery. If you went to The Rootstock Shoppe to get a rootstock, it would probably be early spring and you’d have a nice big cooler to keep it in (away from apples, whose ethylene release can confuse the wood) and you’d come home with a stick that had a few roots poking out its bottom. And that would be it. That stick would have been separated from another rootstock tree, and clonally grown out. That doesn’t seem so exciting. But it seriously is!
The deal with rootstocks is this. You could just take a stick off of a Liberty tree, to continue the example we started with last time, and chop it off at an angle, and find a random apple seedling growing in a cider pomace pile and chop that off at the same angle, and mush the cambium of the two sticks together, tape it up, and put it in a cooler and then pop it in the ground. You’d have a grafted tree and it would make Liberty apples. Yum! However, it would also probably be enormous because naturally occurring apple trees are enormous! It might also have disease sensitivities, or water uptake problems, or incompatible viruses that could make giant welts and eventually cut off the scion. Whew! Not cool! But if you used a known rootstock, like M.9 or M.27 or something you got from a breeding program, you could know about how big the tree would be, because the rootstock controls the size to some degree, and you could know it would have disease resistances, and you could look up compatibility with your variety of apple, and when you matched up the cambium (that’s the alive part of the tree where its “circulatory system” is) you’d get a tree you could predict would be pretty normal, and not make too much wood for the amount of fruit. That would be really cool if, for example, you were a producer who was interested in building a trellis and having a LOT of apple trees in a small area that were small and easy to harvest and could be supported with help, instead of huge trees in a giant area that would need to be strong themselves to hold up the weight of their apple crop. So known rootstocks help make production efficient and smooth! That’s pretty cool. They can also have disease resistance, as I said, although apparently there are supposed to be some viruses in the rootstocks because science thinks they help keep the trees little? I don’t know these things so much! But just like all living dudes who are big enough for passengers, trees have sooooo many little dudes in them and some of them are helpful!
Later I want to tell you a bit about vigor. Remind me.
How does grafting work?
I already said that the cambium from the rootstock and the scion mashes together and gets taped up. Then it heals and the tree just totally ignores the fact that it has multiple trees in it. Literally just does not care. Sometimes you can use an interstem, or another bit of tree, between the rootstock and the scion. That’s fine! Sometimes you can put lots of scions onto one rootstock, and let them stay separate or braid them together. All works. Sometimes they can be different varieties of apple! On the same tree! Apple tree don’t care! What???? How does that work?
To answer that, I’d say, let’s challenge our assumption that it shouldn’t work! Normally I think of living organisms, or individuals, the way I think of myself, and a HUGE part of my perception of myself is my immune system. My immune system would never be ok with someone popping open my circulatory system and taping on another limb! I wouldn’t heal onto that thing and, if it were ovaries, start reproducing using it! My body would totally attack that thing, and try to get rid of it, and I don’t even know. It would be Discomfort Town. But imagine if I had no immune system. Imagine if I was like a tree, and instead of blood cells flowing around in my plasma, full of antibodies and stuff, I had just sap, which was mostly sugar with just a few hormones thrown in, and all the endosymbionts riding around in small numbers. Plants are alive in such a different way than us, it’s so hard to think about it, but their bodies just do things differently! So if all of a sudden their vascular tissues lead into another bit of tree, that’s different from them, ok! And if that tissue later says “here’s some sugars I made!” why would the rootstock have any reason to reject those? Does that make sense? Plant organs are so independent, compared to mine!
So, yeah, as you can see in the picture I put up, the place where the graft union is usually gets a little bulgey, but that’s usually the only indication that something weird happens. The bark texture can change, the wood color might be different, but if nothing goes wrong, the tree just keeps calm and apples on.
I’ve had so many audience clamors recently to post science things so here it goes! If I can, I’d like to explain about grafting and how amazing it is! That way I can fully explain about rootsuckers and how annoying they are. I’m going to ask questions and then answer them myself because I’m alone. It’s going to take me a few posts to say all this science. Because knowledge takes many words to be dropped in!
Why graft trees??
Here is why. Let’s think about efficiency and division of labor. I took sociology classes! I learned in those classes that Emile Durkheim decided one time that when you divide a task up into its constituent parts and one dude gets to do each part, each dude can get much better at his own little task than any dude who had to do every single task himself would be. That doesn’t make sense just for sociology, it makes sense for biology sometimes too! Each tree can be selectively bred to be good at one thing, and not others. So some apple trees are good at making Honeycrisp apples, which taste good, but get sick all the time and can’t use carbohydrates right. Some apple trees are good at making pollen to fertilize lots of delicious apple trees, but their apples are Stimson crabapples and are inedible. And some apple trees are good at making roots. So when you graft trees you take the dude who is the best at the root part of the assembly line and you name him the rootstock, and you take the dude who is best at the fruit part of the assembly line and you name him the scion, and you put them next to each other so they can share carbohydrates and viruses and bark, and then your tree is so good at everything!
If apple trees are grafted, where do apple fruit trees come from in the first place?
This is a fun question! Because once you know that, for example, every Liberty apple tree in the world is a clone of one Liberty tree that grew in Geneva, NY in 1955, it’s confusing that somehow that first tree got to be a Liberty. Here’s how that happens. Most commercial orchards in the world grow varieties of apple that people want to eat. And most people know a bunch of varieties of apple that are awesome and want to eat specifically those varieties. There isn’t much incentive for a commercial apple grower to start fiddling around with breeding and growing apples from seed because the seeds that a Liberty apple produces will be different from a Liberty and will probably be totally unmarketable. Apples have ENORMOUS genomes - almost twice as big as human genomes - and when they combine randomly with each other like they do when they’re pollinated by adorable native ground bees, they can produce lots of combinations. The likelihood of getting a good apple from another good apple is pretty small. That’s why there are fruit breeders! These folks maintain enormous orchards that are sort of genetic libraries for apples, where lots of unmarketable trees can be grown so that they can be used maybe for the other things they’re good at. For example, if I loved Macoun apples but I didn’t love apple scab, a fungal disease which makes Macoun apples really sick, and I was an apple breeder, I could cross Macoun apples with gross apples that were resistant to scab and eventually one would taste good and I could name it Liberty and it could be a pretty decent apple. Also I would work for Cornell and live in Geneva and it would be the 1950’s. Then I could release that apple to the public, and since it was the olden days when you couldn’t patent living things I wouldn’t make money off of it but it would be ok because universities had a ton of money back then I guess and didn’t need to monetize breeding!
That one tree would grow and I would take budwood (sticks basically, but in the dormant season, and with buds on them) from it and graft them onto rootstocks of their own. I would take budwood from each of those and give them their own rootstocks the next year and so on until I had propagated enough trees to give to nurseries. Nurseries could propagate the trees and sell them to growers when they were a year old or so, and then growers could finally get lots of identical Liberty trees. It would be a lot of effort but it would be worth it because the apples would be good-tasting and not get sick that much! So that’s where new varieties of apple come from, they come from breeders, and breeders come from universities because that’s what the money is for. And that’s also where individual trees come from, they come from nurseries, although some apple growers have their own home nurseries where they can propagate their own trees.
Later I will tell you a little bit about plant science and where rootstocks come from and apical dominance. Then I will tell you about rootsuckers and why they make me so mad. I just used so many words and I’m sure you’re tired of reading this post because you have many other tumblrs to read.
I am eating my Golden Delicious from outside and it is just like a fresh one only mellower and softer and less tangy.
I don’t have a ton of hope for this apple- Cortlands are really good fresh (we picked them mid-September and I forgot to review them but they’re good!) but I have eaten some bad ones from storage. But I’ve got my coffee and I’ve got my high hopes and I’ve got an apple that started off so red and has now gone purplish on a golden, almost tan background, with slightly waxier skin. The extra Cameos I picked smell amazing on my desk (remember when the last time I picked Cameos they weren’t totally ripe and they weren’t the best thing ever but now they are!) so I’m in the apple zone.
Bleghghghghghg. Oh man. It tastes like a Red Delicious. Arghg I’m gonna throw this at the hill behind my lab and watch it explode.
Ewwwwwwww. I need to apologize to my mouth. Ok. Other apples later and they’ll be better. And I’m thinking about posting some plant science things about where apples come from, if that’s ok with you guys because it would be pretty cool to talk about things!