The Roots of Your Fruit
How did your favorite apple varieties come to be so consistent?
In the United States, apple breeding facilities are few and far between – there are three, nationwide – and one of them resides at our neighbor college, the University of Minnesota. The breeders there work to devise trees that can withstand temperatures as low as 25 degrees, for our infamously inhospitable climate. Many of their varieties won’t freeze and die on the tree because they’ve been endowed with a high sugar content. How convenient!
U of M brains were behind the Honeycrisp madness you may have experienced in recent years. The botanists started work on this coarsely juicy and aromatic apple in the eighties, and its patent ended in 2008 (which is why you’ve been able to get them locally).
Once the cross is made, they must select and save favorites from among the offspring. Though the trees are too young to flower out and produce fruit at this point (and for about three to eight years), their hardiness can be readily evaluated. It’s obvious which trees will stand up to the test of Wisconsin temperatures.
Then, once the fruit starts weighing down the branches of the chosen trees, the breeding team taste-tests, discarding 99 out of 100 trees. The best fruit bearing trees are then cloned by combining leafed-out stems and new rootstock. Again, these cloned babies take their sweet time – another three to eight years – before they actually yield apples. Once they do, the trees are dispersed throughout the nation to determine how they will function in other climates. Viruses, if found, are eradicated by heat therapy. The last step is for the proud parents to name the variety and file a patent for it, which lasts 20 years.
Last year, consumer buzz alighted on the University of Minnesota’s newest brand, the SweeTango, offspring of Zestar and Honeycrisp parents. It’s rumored to be firmer and denser than the Honeycrisp, and will cost ten percent more than that waning star child of apple brands. The SweeTango is also part of a “limited release” and is only grown through Next Big Thing growers’ cooperative, headquartered at Pepin Heights, Minnesota. But if the SweeTango is too expensive or under-stocked in your area, remember – it’s only one of 7,500 apple varietals worldwide.