Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association

MILE 108 APPLE

February 9, 1999

 —Kevin Irvin

 

The Mile 108 tree on the Seward Highway (about 10 miles south of Anchorage—editor) came to my attention via Verna Pratt this past spring. It was originally found by a lady who does nothing but search and enjoy the “big outdoor” garden. This tree has endured many a winter along the inlet and it is obviously a seedling from a discarded apple core. The tree is known to others besides our group as it has had branches sawed off and it looks as though the main trunk at one time has been sawed off. This tree obviously wants to grow, as today it has about 6 main trunks growing up. Height of the tree is around 20 feet and probably 10 to 15 feet wide, as some of the lower branches have adapted to growing along the ground and in some places it is trying to root itself. My best guess as to the age of the tree is 15 years plus.

I went down this past spring and located it (which took a couple trips and a couple calls to Verna) and took some pollen with me. This tree is unique in that it has adapted to two different climates if you will, one climate just on top the ground and the other in the upper reaches of the tree. The blossoms were out only on the lower branches the first time down, and were just beginning to break in the upper part. I pollinated the lower branches on the first trip then 2 weeks later I went down and the upper part was in full bloom. I proceeded to pollinate this part of the tree which was somewhat of a losing battle as the winds along the inlet kept carrying the pollen off in different directions. However I spotted a bumblebee and proceeded to cover it with pollen from my duster, it didn’t seem to care at all. My hope was that the bee would take the pollen up to the top of the tree and get the job done that the wind was preventing me from doing.

I didn’t get back down to see if my efforts had succeeded until July when three carloads of our group met and went down to look. To my surprise there was some fruit set, about 20 or so apples were forming. While we were there we got a lot of looks from travelers along the highway and one curious individual even stopped to see what all the fuss was about. Of course none of us mentioned anything about the apple tree to this guy and at the time he stopped we were well away from the tree. He eventually left without a clue as to what we were doing.

Through out the rest of the summer, a few group members paid visits to see how the apples were coming along. It seems as though the ones that made it the longest before being picked got to be about 2” in size. Each trip down there were fewer apples on the tree. Needless to say we were unable to harvest any apples from the tree as the traveling public seemed to do this for us. My efforts to see if this apple would be good to grow in our orchards failed. One thing for sure, the tree is very hardy, with what mother nature sends it during the winter along the inlet.

The only way it seems we will know if this seedling will produce an apple of any quality will be to get some scion from it and graft it to some of our trees and see what comes of it. Being it’s location along the Seward Hiway, and the large pullout there, it is doubtful if we will ever get any fruit to maturity on the mother tree. I believe it has a good potential given the size of the blossoms and the last reported size of the apples before they were all picked.

I guess we will need a couple volunteers to get some scion wood from it next spring and spread it around into different locations and see what the results will be. It may never ripen for us, but it is such a unique tree that I believe it’s worth the try.