RIP to The Old Apple Tree, 194-year-old matriarch of Pacific Northwest apples

An old apple tree, but not the Old Apple Tree
An old apple tree, but not the Old Apple Tree
Photo: Education Images (Getty Images)

The Old Apple Tree was planted by fur traders in Vancouver, Washington, in 1826 from seeds allegedly slipped into the pocket of a young British naval officer just before he set sail for the Pacific Northwest. For 194 years, it produced bitter green apples that weren’t very good for eating but were excellent for baking. It fed American soldiers and presidents and served as a frequent field trip destination for schoolchildren. Every October since 1984, apple enthusiasts have gathered to pay tribute to it, and cuttings were distributed so that visitors could have a little bit of the Old Apple Tree in their own yards.

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And now the Old Apple Tree is dead, CNN reports. Let us have a moment of silence for this great tree from which the entire Washington apple industry was descended.

In the tree’s later years, DNA testing determined that it was genetically unique, though it was likely a grandchild of a 500-year-old varietal called the French Reinette. Its own grandchildren and great-grandchildren, meanwhile, have grown all across the Pacific Northwest, sharing their green apples, called English Greenings, far and wide.

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The botanists who cared for the tree first noticed it was ailing in 2015: the cambium layer, the growing part of the trunk, had started to die. Eventually, a crack appeared in the trunk, and the tree began to hollow out. It finally died off in June.

In preparation, the botanists decided to let a few “root suckers,” new shoots emerging from the root system, grow into saplings that would remain in the same location and eventually become a new Old Apple Tree.

Perhaps its best eulogy was given by Charles Ray, the urban forester for the city of Vancouver: “The tree itself has taken on its own persona,” he told CNN. “It’s a living organism, just like us, and it’s been faced with a lifetime of challenges. It stood there for generations and witnessed the world change around it.”

And now its descendents will carry on its legacy. Or its apples.

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Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

RIP Old Apple Tree. I have a thing for trees. My dad owned a sawmill before I was born. And I play guitar, many of which are made of beautiful old wood. Nice bringing this to our attention Aimee.

Eric