Professor Creates New Apple Varietyby Sala Levin ’10 | PHOTO BY Edwin Remsberg; PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY GABRIELA HERNANDEZ
For nearly 30 years, Christopher Walsh has been jonesing for an apple. That’s how long it’s taken the professor of plant science and landscape architecture to create a new kind of apple tree, the first patented at the University of Maryland.
Known as Antietam Blush, the apple is sweet and tart and grows on a tree that reaches only five feet or so—perfect for Maryland, where farmland is expensive and scarce—and is designed to thrive in the state’s relatively warm climate.
“I’m hoping this will be relevant to our local growers but also has a chance of going national or international,” Walsh says.
He began his fruitful odyssey in 1991, when Walsh realized that the main university apple breeding programs were at Cornell, Washington State and the University of Minnesota—all located in the North.
Walsh imagined a new, grower-friendly tree for the mid-Atlantic, one that was precocious (meaning it bears fruit early in its life), small and resistant to a destructive bacterial disease known as fire blight.
All that, and it had to produce a delicious apple.
Walsh started by planting two McIntosh Wijcik trees in a block of about 100 Gala trees at the Western Maryland Research & Education Center. He let Mother Nature do what she does best, and after some 10 years, the resulting nearly 500 trees that Walsh referred to as compact Gala-Macs began to bear fruit. Of those 500 trees, Walsh selected about 30 that had the attributes he was looking for, and planted those in a block of Cripps Pink trees, again letting them cross-pollinate naturally. After another 10 years or so, Walsh had just one that met his criteria.
Antietam Blush, Walsh says, combines the tartness of its parent, Cripps Pink, with the “champagne fizz” of its grandparent, Gala.
Meanwhile, Walsh gave budwood to several growers, who have been experimenting with growing more trees. He and his co-inventor, Julia Harshman ’09, M.S. ’12, hope to patent several cousins of Antietam Blush, grow more trees and get them into the hands of nurseries and orchards.
“I’m not a breeder,” he says, “but by sticking with it long enough, I’ve found a little scientific niche that wasn’t being filled.”
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