Mission to save apple trees
Modern day Johnny Appleseed researching local varieties
By John Faucher
Spend two hours with Henry Jacobson and you will never look an apple the same way again.
The 18-year-old Hortonville High School graduate is on a mission to save heirloom apple trees of the United States. You might say he is a modern day Johnny Appleseed.
At one time, there were an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 apple varieties in the United States.
“Today, there are only 14,000 varieties left and more are lost every year,” said Jacobson. “Fortunately there are people out there that want to save them.”
Jacobson took up his interest in heirloom apple trees several years ago on his father’s small orchard located southwest of New London. He wanted to find out what varieties were present on the home farm.
Jacobson’s quest soon turned into a larger scale project to locate and preserve heirloom apple trees of Waupaca County.
He began his research by reviewing documents from the State of Wisconsin Horticultural Society.
Jacobson found that some of the early growers of Waupaca County were considered leading experts in America.
“Some people say Waupaca County growers rivaled those from New York,” said Jacobson. “The two most notable apple varieties from this region are the Wolf River and Northwestern Greening.”
The Wolf River Apple originated on the farm of Jacob Steigler near Fremont, and the Northwestern Greening originated from a seedling on the farm of Jason Hatch near Iola.
Other distinguished nurserymen of Waupaca County were Asa D. Barnes of Waupaca, William Springer of Fremont, A Bennet of Royalton, E.W. Wrightmann, and A.V. Balch of Weyeuwega.
Jacobson has researched old plat maps of Waupaca County in an attempt to locate where some of the early pioneers had orchards.
“Most of the apple varieties these nurserymen had were seedling apple trees,” said Jacobson. “The nurserymen singled out which varieties were best suited for the family farm or the commercial orchard.”
Local varieties included: Linfield, Martha, Granite Sweet, Wisconsin Russet, Greening, Addie, Waite’s Blush, Sweet Snow, Eveline, Wall, Weyauwega, Tewabie, Bennet, Sappho, Waupaca, Wilson’s Russet, Morse’s Sweet, Crocker, Jenney and the Blaine.
“Some of these varieties went to the World’s Fair at New Orleans in 1884,” said Jacobson. “Several of them won premiums.”
That year the Wisconsin seedlings won the highest amount of cash premiums, out of 20,000 plates on display.
Jacobson said the most common varieties of apples propagated today include: Honeycrisp, Jonathan, McIntosh, Connell, and Yellow Transparent.
“There are only about 10 or 12 different varieties of apples sold in U.S. supermarkets today,” said Jacobson.
His research has taken him to various locations in Waupaca County where he is searching and hoping to find local varieties still growing.
“You want them to be preserved and accessible for people in future generations,” said Jacobson.
He has even created “wanted posters” asking for help locating live trees of unique variety that still may be growing in the county.
Jacobson said the wanted posters have worked well in other states where pomologists are seeking to find and preserve unique varieties. Pomologists study and cultivate fruit.
He said that the best time to tell the variety of apple trees is in the fall when they have fruit. The most usual tree Jacobson has found in the county so far is called the Ratsburg Apple. It is 170 years old and stands 40 feet tall.
Jacobson contacted the owner of the tree and asked permission to take a cutting from it in an attempt to grow a new tree.
Other varieties Jacobson is looking for in the Waupaca area include Alden, Bessie, Casey, Crocker, Jenney, Lind, Martha, Mawhinney, Waupaca Greening, Wisconsin Russett, Wisconsin Spy and the Wrightman.
“If you have any information or rumors regarding any of the apples listed above, please give me a call,” said Jacobson.
Jacobson can be reached at 920-740-0869 or by email at [email protected]