Members Only Apples
Of all the fruit trees grown in a home orchard, apple trees are the most common. Apple trees can be planted between late fall and early spring. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from. Some, however, you may only be able to taste by buying the fruit from a grocery store.
These varieties of apples are called proprietary varieties or club apples. Although widely unknown to consumers, this trend has been around for years and will likely continue.
New apple varieties are developed through traditional breeding, where plant breeders intentionally cross-pollinate varieties to generate offspring with a new combination of characteristics different from the parent varieties. New varieties also arise when plants cross naturally, and the resulting seedling is found.
States with a large apple industry, like Washington, New York, and Michigan, have apple breeding programs that develop new varieties. Cooperative groups also exist. Members of these groups pay dues that fund breeding efforts. When they develop a new variety, it may be available only to the members of that group. There are also private companies that breed varieties.
Once a seedling produces fruit, which can take several years, it is evaluated for fruit taste and quality and tree vigor, among other things. The process of developing a new variety and bringing it to market requires a tremendous amount of faith, patience, and sometimes money. If it is a variety that is truly unique from anything else already on the market, then it may receive a patent.
An example of this is the Honeycrisp apple, one of the most popular, and highest priced, apples on the market today. This apple was developed at the University of Minnesota and was patented. Anyone could purchase a Honeycrisp apple tree, but each time one of these apple trees was sold, a royalty was paid to the breeding program. The patent has now expired.
Some varieties are not just patented but are also trademarked. Unlike patents, trademarks don’t expire. This allows the developers of a variety to more tightly control supply and fruit quality.
An example of this is the newly developed SweeTango apple. To grow this variety, you must be a member of the cooperative that funded its development. Then a portion of the cost of each apple sold is returned back to the cooperative. Some funds are allocated to marketing the SweeTango variety as well, so don’t be surprised if there is a marketing campaign for SweeTango apples in the next few years.
Another new variety called Evercrisp has also been developed. Although not in supermarkets yet, this variety shows promise. As you might have guessed, Honeycrisp is one of its parents.
The story of this apple begins in 2001 when an Indiana fruit grower received seedlings from his cooperative. The seedlings were crosses between Honeycrisp and Fuji. They were planted and nearly forgotten. Then in 2008, the grower happened to pass by the trees and notice a few fruit on the trees. When he tasted one, he knew it was something special.
25,000 Evercrisp trees were planted this year alone, and more trees will go in over the next couple years. Because the cooperative developed the variety, any grower that belongs to the group will now have access to Evercrisp trees. Growers that don’t belong to the cooperative will not.
Ambrosia and Jazz are other club apple varieties that might be familiar. Less common club varieties include Kanzi, Lady Alice, Pinata, Autumn Glory, Envy, and Snapdragon.
With Honeycrisp’s demonstrated popularity and the promise of new varieties like SweeTango and Evercrisp, the concept of club apples won’t be going away any time soon.
For questions to your gardening questions, contact the Caldwell Extension office by calling 828-757-1290 or visiting caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu.