Volunteers collate largest UK apple and pear catalogue
11 April 2022
Budding citizen scientists have helped to identify the largest ever DNA catalogue of apple and pear varieties across the UK.
In a paper published in Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, scientists have DNA ‘fingerprinted’ thousands of cultivars held in local collections across the UK including orchards and kitchen gardens.
The team from the University of Reading, and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany at East Malling (NIAB-EMR) were able to compare the DNA of submitted samples with the existing National Fruit Collection in Brogdale, Kent (for which the University acts as curator). As a result, more than 900 previously uncatalogued and ‘lost’ cultivars, including some potentially dating to the 1800s, were identified and digitally catalogued.
Dr Matt Ordidge from the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Reading is the Scientific Curator for the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale. Matt said:
“The ability to identify and collate the largest ever digital catalogue of apple and pear DNA is significant for the ongoing preservation of the UK’s long heritage in fruit varieties.
“The findings from our research are a testament to the volunteers that have found and submitted samples from everything from kitchen gardens and orchards of old properties right through to some found by the roadside. There are some fantastic finds, including the ‘Bringewood Pippin’ which was previously thought to be lost, and the wonderfully named ‘Don’s Delight’ and ‘Forty Winks’.”
As a result of the submissions from volunteers, a UK Register of Local Cultivars has been established and coordinated on behalf of the local groups through FruitID with an inaugural meeting hosted at the University of Reading.
Highlights from the first phase of the Register include the findings of ‘Barcelona Pearmain’ and ‘Bringewood Pippin’ (dating to the 1800s and previously thought to be lost) that were both identified by the Marcher Apple Network in the Welsh Marches. ‘Barcelona Pearmain’ had been found during 2009 as a hundred-year-old tree on a farm near Tewkesbury, and ‘Bringewood Pippin’ was found as another old tree in an orchard in Shropshire during 2004. Until now they had not been formally recognised by the National Fruit Collection.
Alongside the finding of these old cultivars, a number of known seedlings have been named including ‘Don’s Delight’ from Devon, ‘White Tie’ from Dorset and ‘Forty Winks’ from North London as well as a russeted form of the cultivar ‘Greensleeves’ identified in a commercial orchard in Norfolk (named ‘Blofield Russet’).
The National Fruit Collection was first established in 1922 as a collaboration between the Royal Horticultural Society and the Ministry of Agriculture and has been curated by the University of Reading (under contract to Defra) since 2008. The collection comprises approximately 3,500 cultivars of tree fruit, mostly of apple, pear, plum and cherry each maintained as a pair of trees.
Venison, E.P., Litthauer, S., Laws, P. et al. Microsatellite markers as a tool for active germplasm management and bridging the gap between national and local collections of apple. Genet Resour Crop Evol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10722-022-01342-5