Thursday, June 30, 2011

One Odd Apple

The several dozen apple trees (probably over a hundred all together) growing on our Wisconsin land come in many shapes and sizes.  The trees range in size from around eight feet on the small end to over twenty feet tall (guessing, but some of these trees are really big).  Some are compact in their growing habit, and some majestically sprawling, with stout horizontal branches that invite you to climb up and take a seat in the cool shade on a hot afternoon.  Quite a few are composed of many trunks, acquired from shoots pushing up from rootstock in their carefree years before we arrived to harass them, try to get them to make something of themselves, and a few are miraculously kempt, requiring only a few judicious pruning cuts to give them a shape that would be quite at home in a real orchard.

And while most of the trees are found in irregular groupings in the open areas on our property, there are a number of large, healthy trees that now find themselves growing in the middle of the woods--mainly among the younger stands of birch and aspen.  Some of those trees may be wild, seedling trees, or they may have been planted on purpose, and only later in life became isolated in the forest as those faster-growing species colonized the area.

What all these trees have in common is that, regardless of differences in size or posture, they look like apple trees.  The main trunk or trunks rise to a certain height, then branch out to form a spreading crown.  Wild and unruly though many of them are, they are recognizable even at a distance as apple trees.

All but one.  That's the Anomalous Apple, so I think of it, pictured above, as best I could manage--its trunk starts at the very bottom left and angles toward the upper right.  It's growing no more than a couple of feet from the much, much larger trunk of a mature white oak on the north side of our land--that's a limb of the oak visible behind the Anomalous Apple.

I first noticed Anomalous this winter on a snowshoe walk through the woods.  Here was a tree that had to be some kind of fruit tree, and its bark said apple to me, as did the bare wood of the small dead branches which were the only branches close enough to the ground for us to really see.  It wasn't a plum or cherry, the most common wild fruit trees on our land.  It really seemed that it had to be an apple tree, except that the trunk, instead of rising to the usual four to six feet, then spreading its arms to make apples, the trunk surpassed that height and just kept going, straight up, right into the branches of its companion oak, with only minor, twiggy side branches along the way.  It looked like an apple that yearned to be a pine tree, is what it looked like. 

Well, I'm not a forestry expert.  I decided to keep an eye on it and see what it would turn out to be, once it leafed out and, perhaps, even bloomed.  Likely it would reveal itself to be something quite obvious, in hindsight, and certainly not an apple.  Except, it is.  Or, I'm pretty well sure that it is.  It leafed out, and the leaves looked like apple leaves, only unusually large, perhaps to compensate for its sunless situation.  It blossomed, and examined through binoculars, those blooms well over our heads did indeed look like apple blossoms.

You can just make out the fruit in the photo above--it's awfully hard to shoot, aiming upward at the brighter sky from below in the dark woods.  Here's a tighter crop:

The little apples are mostly around the edges of the picture.  It's a curiosity, for sure, and I can't wait to find out what those apples taste like once they ripen.  While we speculate about which of our other trees might be wild trees, unique to our little plot of land, this one, this Anomalous Apple, we're sure about.  Apple trees take a long time to reach full size, but oaks take even longer.  Somehow an apple seed found its way into the old oak and maple woods, managed to germinate, and, against all odds, survive for all these years in what has to be one of the more uncomfortable situations an apple tree could find itself in. 

It would seem, once again, that Great Nature has found a way.  Now we are only left to ponder, Why?  Maybe just because it can.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw


Sharon Parker said...

What an enjoyable post. Perhaps it's a sport of an older variety? I don't know the natural history of apples, but the classic form we know may be the result of human selection. After all, nature wouldn't care how easy it is for us to reach the apples; the tree will, if left alone, disperse its seeds by dropping them, after which they'll be carried off by ground-dwelling critters. So, a tall central leader may be characteristic of its primal form, perhaps. Or not.

Kate said...

Self germinated apples rarely produce edible fruit as they don't have the same gene structure as their parent seed. Might be good pickin for fermenting some cider though

Anonymous said...

Could it be a Hawthorne?

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Sharon: As Kate points out, apples don't grow true from seed, apple genetics being what they are, which is, quite odd. And I'm sure you're right that our conception of the classic apple tree is largely of our own making. Mary was reading a book, "Story of the Apple," a while back, which describes the ancestral home of all apples in central Asia, where there are forests of wild apple trees and they take all shapes and sizes.

Hi Kate: Quite so. I am not expecting great eating apples (though, you never know!), and there aren't many of them. I'm just curious to taste the fruit from this one tree which I'm sure is a Bide-A-Wee native.

Hello Anonymous: I've enjoyed your work through the centuries--thanks for writing! I considered hawthorn before it leafed out, and once it did, that was ruled out. Hawthorn leaves are distinctively different from apple--and very pretty. Also, no thorns.

Cheers all~ Brett