Page 14 - Simply Vegetables Winter 2020/21
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                                 Other methods of identification?
Having checked through traditional methods, discussions were held with Steve Oram, Orchard Biodiversity Officer, People’s Trust for Endangered Species; Peter Laws, fruitID; and Dr Matt Ordidge over the use of DNA sampling to confirm the identification of unknown cultivars. This resulted in a visit to the Isle of Wight on the 17th June 2019 to collect DNA samples of 23 cultivars, based on the most likely candidates identified in
the April reconnaissance visit. We collected from five sites including Quarr Abbey, Steyne House and a private orchard in East Wight.
To add to this, samples were also collected from a Sparsholt College tree in the collection labelled as ‘Lord Kitchener’. This cultivar was originally exhibited at the RHS in 1915 by Andover Nurseries but no specimen seen (Taylor Apples of England Ed 3 (rev), 1946).
On another visit to the Isle of Wight on 30th September 2019, we collected fruit, where possible, from trees that were DNA tested. We also met Sr. Anselma at St. Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde to consider whether ‘Little Pax’® could be added to the National Plant Collection. Discussions are ongoing.
Collecting DNA samples from tree A3626, one of the “unknown” trees at Steyne House, June 2019
The results are in!
After what seemed to be a protracted time period we were given the preliminary results on 31st January 2020 and confirmed final results from Peter Laws, DNA scheme on the 30th March 2020 just as lockdown was in full swing. Of the 24 samples presented,
20 were positively identified and our Sparsholt tree came back as the rootstock MM106. What a disappointment.
Excitedly, four of our samples have been confirmed as “unknown”. This means that there is not a matching DNA fingerprint in either the National Fruit Collection (2,100 apples), other records held by East Malling Services or the other samples in the 2016- 2019 DNA schemes. (Source: https://www.
Just before lockdown we managed a further visit to the Isle of Wight on the 14th March where we had arranged a pruning visit to Steyne House. However, when we arrived the owners had instructed their gardener to ‘tidy up the apple trees’ therefore only one tree required pruning.
On the upside we did collect grafting material from that one tree, one of the
four “unknown” trees, with DNA testing reference A3627. This was then grafted back at the College on 23rd March in a socially distanced manner. We have since collected propagation material for the remaining three unknown trees.
Where do we go from here?
Following in Lady Thornycroft’s footsteps, we would like to submit fruit for the four unknown trees to the RHS FVH Committee for their inspection as soon as possible. This would be a first step in the validation, naming and registration of these cultivars. But first we need fruit to also compare
with the records from the 1930s. Given the growing challenges of 2020, including severe late frost and lockdown, this is by no means certain.
We are working with the tree owners re monitoring and optimising the crop. We are also pleased that at the time of writing two of the grafts performed on 23rd March are successful.
We continue to consider and investigate other potential leads including descendants of Lady Thornycroft’s gardeners. Excitingly, an assessment is in progress on whether ‘Little Pax’® can be added to the National Plant Collection.
If anyone has information on the cultivars in our search, we would love to hear from you. Please contact Chris Bird, Curator of the National Plant Collection® at
Jamie Cryer (third from the right next to Rascal) and team with The National Plant Collection® at Sparsholt College, August 2020 (Image: Chris Bird)
  Liz Smith, Sr. Anselma and Chris Bird with ‘Little Pax’® at St. Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde September 2019
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