Apples and apple trees are icons of Sullivan County, especially in the fall. But beyond the cultivated trees in orchards and back yards, there are also countless wild apple trees growing along roads, in old fields, and by cellar holes. Some of these trees (heirlooms) were planted long ago and abandoned. Others are true wildings - trees that grew from seed without any human help. But no matter how they got there, these wild apple trees are gaining respect from farmers, homesteaders and researchers because they have a proven ability to survive. Wild apple trees often do just fine on their own, without any irrigation, fertilizers or mulch. They also survive attacks by insects and diseases, attacks that can kill less locally adapted trees.
The fruit from wild apples is also promising due to its tremendous diversity in size, color, firmness, flavor, acidity and sugar content. Apples, like people, are heterozygous, which means that their genetic variations combine randomly to cause significant differences between seeds. This is why apples don't "come true" from seed, and why every named apple variety (McIntosh, Granny Smith, etc.) can only be perpetuated through cuttings and grown out vegetatively. But this limitation is also an amazing opportunity, because it also means that every apple seed has the potential to grow into a unique tree with unique fruit.
Because Sullivan County lands in Unity include several farmsteads in addition to the old County Farm, there are many wild apple trees, both abandoned as well as wildings.
This year, the Natural Resources Department began an inventory of the County's wild apple trees thanks to NR Field Technician, Mark Richards, and student intern, Hollis Wilson. So far, three sites with over 70 trees have been mapped. The trees were also assessed for their condition, and fruit was harvested and tasted. Apples from three of the trees were then entered into the 3rd annual Pomological Exhibition held in Ashfield, Massachusetts. Hosted by expert wild apple forager, Matt Kaminsky, (who also goes by the colorful name "Gnarly Pippins"), this event featured a tasting of more than 100 varieties of wild fruit with flavors ranging from cotton candy to vanilla, cherry, banana, lemon, lime, orange, grass, clove, cumin and more. Some apples were so sour and bitter that they were truly inedible! Next year, the Natural Resources Department will continue its wild apple inventory, in hopes of possibly discovering a tree with exceptional fruit and strong vigor.