Nearly everyone likes apples in some form or shape. In fact, the average person in the United States eats more than half their weight in apples and apple products each year. While there are hundreds of apple varieties produced, the mackintosh, granny green and red delicious, particularly thrive in the Southern Ohio River Valley.
Recently a harsh cold spell hit the Tri–state area and damaged 80% of the region’s apple orchards. This is raising concern with local farmers as several years of quirky weather has stressed the local apple orchards to the point that many trees are not only losing their crop, but now the trees themselves are at risk. If freezing temperatures cause apple blossoms to fall off without setting seed, the apple fruit will not develop. But if the frost reaches the root itself, the tree may die, affecting future generations of apple crops.
Grafting describes a plant cloning technique in which a section of a stem with leaf buds is inserted into the stock of another tree. Since ancient times, growers have practiced this art to attach the shoot of the desired exotic fruit to a hardy root stock. In fact, this early version of a ‘GMO’ dates back 2,000 years to Mesopotamia.
Becoming aware of the local apple crop dilemma in Dr. Carter’s Zoology class, OUS students developed an interest in performing apple tree grafting on campus. The idea received a favorable response from the administration. On Monday April 23, OSU student and naturalist, Joseph Bass, demonstrated the process of grafting. Several students gathered branches from trees that were not damaged by the late frost for the lab demonstration. A hardy dwarf apple tree was chosen for the “stock tree”. The grafted tree was planted behind Collins Career Center, and its limbs are expected to grow four different apples varieties: fuji, red delicious, green delicious and granny smith.
During this demonstration, students were exposed to the genetics of the apple tree and the procedures that are required to plant, cultivate and graft a frost-resistant tree. It is hoped that the zoology students will take this knowledge and appreciation of the apple and ultimately produce a stock of hardy resistance and adaptability to extreme climate shifts.
But this research will be a slow process. It takes about seven years from grafting a tree to seeing fruit develop on it. Students, however, will benefit by having the opportunity to observe and care for the tree’s development throughout their educational experience at OUS.
Special thanks to Joe Bass and his expertise for making it possible for this “Ground Breaking” project to take place.