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Apple Breeding

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


The subject of apple breeding should be of interest to every Michigan apple grower, and, I am sure that it is worthy of our serious consideration. A few facts may be of interest to show what has been accomplished in this particular branch of horticulture.

In the "Apples of New York" 698 varieties are described. Of all these, there is only one of which both male and female parent is known ; two have one parent given and the other one guessed; four are said to be bud sports or mutations; the female or seed parent is given for 39 varieties; and 71 are chance seedlings. No origin is known for the remaining 517 varieties.

From these facts we may draw the following conclusions : First, that there has been no systematic effort to improve varieties of apples; second, that improvement has been brought about by the introduction of new varieties; third, that most of these varieties have originated as chance seedlings. Thousands of seeds have been planted, with the idea that, perhaps, at least one might develop a tree and fruit of superior quality, hardiness and habit of growth.

Now it seems to me that such methods are entirely too slipshod; to say the least they are unscientific. Why can we not eliminate this element of chance and uncertainty? I believe we can. I believe that any radical improvement will be brought about only by the crossing of desirable varieties. This, of course, involves the artificial pollution of the apple blossom. The method is simple. Buds are selected on both male and female parent, selecting those which have not yet opened. The stamens are removed from the bud of the female parent, care being taken that none of the anthers are dehisced; it is then covered with a paper sack. In a day or two, or when the stigma is receptive, the sack is removed, and pollen from the flower of the male parent is applied to the stigma. The sack is then replaced and allowed to remain until seeds have formed; later the paper sack is replaced by a cloth sack which is allowed to remain until harvest time. Much care should be exercised during the whole operation to exclude all foreign pollen. The fruit resulting from this cross will not differ from any other fruit on the tree used as female parent, but the fruit grown from the seeds resulting from the cross will be entirely different in character.

About twelve years ago an experiment was started at the Experiment Station of Geneva, New York. A large number of crosses were made. They found that, contrary to popular opinion, seedling apples do not revert to the wild type; that certain varieties are prepotent as regards certain characters, or that these characters are carried over in the fruit resulting from the cross. They also found that the seedlings were much more vigorous, even when crowded in the nursery row, than the common seedlings which were not crowded.

Probably most of our valuable varieties have resulted from accidental crossing in nature, but if we know the characters which will carry over, it should be easy to select parents and unite given characters to form a new and superior combination without the waste of time necessary in growing so many seedlings. Results already obtained show that improvement can be made by crossing varieties having these desirable dominant characters, and I suggest this method of apple breeding as a means by which varieties of apples may be "bred up" or improved much more quickly, and with more certainty, in the future than in the past. To be sure, the work lies largely in the hands of the experiment stations where the problem of time and funds is not so great as with the individual, but I do not think it is out of the realm of the individual fruit grower, providing sufficient care is exercised in the work.

In conclusion, let me say that we must improve our apples for Michigan conditions, and I know of no one better fitted for the work than the Michigan horticulturist who thoroughly understands these conditions. Improved varieties brought to us from other localities may prove to be of little value when brought under the influence of a new environment, and it is doubtful whether bud selection or the use of "pedigreed trees" will effect any improvement. There is, however, much promise of improvement in apple breeding, and by close application of the new laws of breeding which have been discovered we may expect the production of new varieties which are far superior in many respects to any which are now grown.

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