Yes, Johnny Appleseed Trees Exist, and Now You Can Grow One of Your Own
Through children's books, films, and television specials, the story of Johnny Appleseed has touched American hearts ever since the real hero, John Chapman, first planted apple seeds across the country in the 1800s. Now, you can literally bring the legend to life by growing a clone of a Johnny Appleseed tree in your own backyard.
Jeff Meyer, the founder of Johnny Appleseed Organic, first found out about one of the last known Appleseed trees in the 1990s when the Harvey-Algeo family in Ohio sent him a letter revealing that they had been taking care of the tree on their farm for generations. After verifying the historic tree's authenticity through independent entities, Meyer acquired exclusive genetic rights to it and started propagating identical copies of it. He planted the grafted saplings in his nursery and discovered that they have several desirable characteristics.
"They're very vigorous, healthy trees with very few problems at all in terms of diseases," Meyer says. He notes that, compared to all the different varieties such as Delicious and Fuji in the nursery, the cloned Johnny Appleseed trees "will grow more than any of the other trees do in a 12-month time." They also produce large crops of tasty green fruit, which ripen in late September. Meyer describes the flavor as "a little bit tart and a little bit sweet, but not overly either one."
Meyer named the variety Johnny Appleseed Authentic Algeo, after the Ohio family that had preserved the legacy tree. And to him, the fact that it really does originate from a nearly 200-year-old tree planted by none other than John Chapman is the main draw for these trees. That original tree planted from a seed is the only one like it in world and "that's all there ever will be because every seed is different," explains Meyer. "But the ones that we graft from it are all identical to the mother tree," he says.
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The Johnny Appleseed Authentic Algeo variety thrives in Hardiness Zones 4-7 and is available through the Johnny Appleseed website in two different sizes: one that grows up to 16 feet tall and a dwarf version that tops out around 10 feet tall. They come either as bare-root trees (dormant saplings with no soil around the roots) or planted in containers. Either type can be planted in the ground or in a large pot in full sun.
Meyer hopes that backyard orchardists and gardeners will add this apple variety to their plots because "it produces a huge amount of fruit." And, of course, because "it's a cool thing to have in the garden and say, 'Hey, that's a Johnny Appleseed tree.'"