A note to my son's teacher.

My 8 yr old son related to me a discussion he had regarding Johnny Appleseed with his teacher. He commented, on something he heard from me, that the apples planted from seed by Johnny Appleseed were actually inedible and planting 30 apples 29 would not be good enough to eat. Well she challenged him and said his father was wrong and she would be happy to call me and educate me. I sat down and typed this response to here after so she wouldn't have to "educate me".

Dear Teacher . . . .(back story above)

This is a simple case of genetics and basic botany. The fruit of apple trees are created by a natural form of hybrid breeding. Apples are cross-pollinators, meaning they require pollen from another apple (of a different variety) in order to produce fruit. Therefore, the seeds produced inside the fruit will receive half of their genes from an outside pollen source. For example if you plant a red delicious apple half the genes will come from that apple and half from the male pollinizer.
The odds of getting a apple from seed sweet enough to bite is approximately 1 in 30, one in a thousand seedlings would be good apple, and one in a million that is worthy for a new variety.

To get edible apples, you graft trees, producing a clone of a tree that you know bears good fruit. And so the fact that Johnny Appleseed was planting apples from seed, which he insisted on because he thought grafting was wicked, meant they were not edible apples, the apples were for cider because you can use any kind of apple for making cider.

Frontier Americans used apples, overwhelmingly, to make hard cider or even stronger applejack. Hard cider was far and away the staple beverage of the nineteenth century frontier, arguably more popular than water. Historians have called Johnny Appleseed the "American Dionysus" because in planting trees only suitable for cider he was bringing the gift of alcohol.

I hope that clears up the confusion.

Respectfully,

Jacob Primo

Sources:

http://umanitoba.ca/afs/hort_inquiries/fruit_and_fruit_plants/johnny_appleseed.html

www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/pollination.html

http://www.pollinator.com/appleseeds_faq.htm

Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire (2001)-"This book provides a easy summary of the problem and the story"

Robert Price, Johnny Appleseed: Man and Myth
"considered the definitive biography"

Johnny Appleseed: A Voice in the Wilderness, edited by William E. Jones (2000). "A collection of contemporary accounts"

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