Apples don’t inbreed:
I’ve always liked the story of Johnny Appleseed.  A modest man named John Chapman traveled around the country living rough and carrying a sack of apple seeds which he would plant for people.  All right, so the apple is an exotic in the United States, and that it is usually a poor idea to tamper with Mother Nature that way, but this time we were lucky and there is no danger at present of ravening forests of apple trees sweeping across the land destroying everything it their path. 

The man was under a cloud for a while.  People scoffed at the legend because of one biological fact.  Apples don’t breed with close relatives.  So if you have two apple trees, either they cannot produce seeds together or they are so different from each other that the resulting trees will produce fruit that is unpredictable because the genes get mixed up.  Hence the expression, “As sure as God made little green apples,” I suppose. 

Chapman could have produced nice, big, juicy, sweet apples if he had planted his seeds on one visit and then returned a few years later to graft known desirable apple branches onto the new growth.  But then he would be called Johnny Appletwig if carrying large numbers of live twigs for a long time even proved feasible.  Or he could have planted trees by the grove and advised the people receiving the trees that most of the trees would eventually cut for firewood.  Still that might be a stretch to believe.

Johnny has now been rehabilitated after a fashion.  It is now thought (Besting Johnny Appleseed, Sam Kean SCIENCE vol. 328. n0. 5976 April 16, 2010 page 301) that the farmers just wanted the apples to make cider with, and didn’t much care what the apples were like.  Maybe.  I guess they are right.  But I had a friend once – he was a resident where I was an intern – who was from upstate New York.  As a boy he would spend summer days wandering in the woods, already then mostly deserted of farming as agribusiness had made it unprofitable, and would find occasionally far off in the woods an apple tree in fruit.  He said they were delightful.  No cider mill fodder these, just ancient trees with the sweetest of fruit.  I can’t remember for sure, but I think he said they were all different. 

So I’m sticking with the legend.  Meanwhile high tech has moved in and they are doing some genetic tinkering to make fruit that will be marketable, disease resistant and fast growing.  I think they might do well to spend a little time hiking in the right season. 

The bottom line is this.  I keep harping on the fact that everything should be taken in moderation.  Too much inbreeding is bad.  Too much outbreeding is bad. 

Apple trees are a rallying point for the outbreeders.  Well they deserve one, anyway.

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