This exciting undertaking aims to preserve the rich cultural and genetic history of southern heirloom fruit and nut trees. Not only do we collect trees that are richly imbued with historical value, but we collect their stories as well. At one time, the southern landscape was abundant with fruit diversity. By necessity, people produced their own fruit for cooking, drying, preserving, fresh eating, and cider. Local food production in the various microclimates and ecological niches of the southeastern United States enabled and nurtured an immense diversity of apples, pears, peaches, grapes, figs, and many other fruit varieties. However, with the introduction of the railroads, the commercialization of agriculture, and the growing urbanization of the south, many of the southern heirloom fruits from homesteads were replaced with standardized commercial varieties from supermarkets. This phenomenon has resulted in the loss of invaluable genetic diversity and the rich cultural heritage associated with traditional southern fruit varieties. The Southern Heritage Orchard Project is currently planting a preservation and educational orchard at The Agrarian Connections Farm in Oglethorpe County, Georgia.
Heirloom fruit trees planted in the Southern Heritage Orchard are:
Arkansas Black, spur – This tree originated near Bentonville, Arkansas around 1870 as a seedling in the orchard of Mr. Brattwait. The skin of the fruit is yellow and the sunny side turns so red it can almost look black, hence its name. The flesh is rock hard when first picked, but it softens with storage, making Arkansas Black a great keeper apple. Although the tree is not very productive, it is very disease resistant, except to apple scab. The fruit has even shown some resistance to coddling moth. There are spur and nonspur strains, although, according to Jim Lawson of Ballgrounds, GA, the nonspur strain is much less common.
American Golden Russet
American Summer Pearmain
Ben Davis – In his book “Old Southern Apples”, Lee Calhoun says, “if the Red Delicious is the apple success story of the twentieth century, then Ben Davis is the apple success story of the nineteenth century” (47). Indeed, much like the supermarket Red Delicious apples of today, the Ben Davis is fairly flavorless and insipid. However, between 1865 and 1900 millions of Ben Davis trees were planted in commercial orchards throughout the South, Midwest and surrounding states. Why, despite its inferior fruit, was it so widely planted? The tree is a rapid grower and incredibly hardy—an orchardist’s dream; the fruit is beautiful and will keep for months—making it excellent for shipping. After the Ben Davis boom and bust, commercial production switched to tastier apples like the Jonathan or Winesap. Many Ben Davis trees were destroyed, actually making this variety quite rare in the very states in which it once proliferated.
Calhoun’s Summer Banana
Calvin – This is an old southern apple that was brought from Virginia to Kentucky over 100 years ago. It is used for making both cider and apple brandy, but it is a good eating apple as well. In Georgia the fruit ripens in late July through August.
Carolina Red June – This variety originated in South Carolina, most likely before 1800, although the exact date is not known. It was a very important apple for subsistence farmers, because it ripens early, and unlike many other early apples, it is good for fresh eating. The apple is also good for cider and baking. The tree is very productive, but it is susceptible to apple scab and cedar-apple rust. The fruit ripens in June and July throughout most of the South. Note: this variety is very similar to Striped June, and the two varieties have often been confused.
Carter’s Blue – This apple originated in the 1840’s near Montgomery, Alabama on the homesite of Colonel Carter. The heavy bloom and foliage of the tree cast a bluish hue, hence the name Carter’s Blue. The tree is very productive, but is susceptible to cedar-apple rust. At one point, this variety was extinct in the United States. However, Lee Calhoun of Pittsboro, North Carolina helped obtain scion wood from the National Fruit Trust of Kent, England and reintroduced Carter’s Blue to the south. The fruit ripens from September to November.
Coon (?) – Although this variety is thought to be extinct, we obtained this tree from Joyce Neighbors of Alabama. She had received here original scions from Jim Lawson of Ballgrounds, GA, who had grafted the tree for a couple that had brought him scions to graft from a tree called “Coon Creek of Kentucky”. Seeing that the variety Coon originated in Kentucky before 1860, this tree may actually be Coon.
Detroit Red – This apple was introduced to the area around Detroit, Michigan by early French settlers. It is listed in catalogues from Georgia and Kentucky as early as 1870, although it was not often grown in the South. It is often confused with the southern apple Red Detriot, but in fact they are two distinct varieties. The fruit of the Detroit Red can be deep red to almost black with white flesh that is sometimes stained red. It has high quality fruit which ripens from September to February.
Devine – In her book “Apples: Collecting Old Southern Varieties”, Joyce Neighbors says that the “origin and true variety [of this apple] are unknown, but a sprout of it was brought from South Carolina to Gadsden, Alabama, in 1895, by Mrs. J. B. Devine’s father. It had been in her father’s family for many years prior to 1895” (14). The tree blooms at the same time as the Carolina Red June, and the red fruit with pale red stripes and splashes resembles the Carolina Red June as well. In ripens early in mid to late July.
Granny Neighbors – We had the good fortune of getting this tree from Joyce Neighbors, and it had come from her father’s farm in Clay County, Alabama. It is named after Joyce Neighbors’ mother. It was a seedling that was found growing on the farm about 50 feet from a Hackworth tree, and thus far it has demonstrated good disease resistance. It blooms around the sametime as a Rome apple and it begins to ripen from late July to early August.
Grimes Golden – This apple was discovered in Brooks County, West Virginia around 1800 in the home orchard of Thomas P. Grimes. It has been one of the most widely planted and admired of southern apples, being advertised in nearly every nursery catalog since 1870. The skin and flesh of the apple has a golden-yellow color. The fruit keeps well, although it ripens in early fall in many parts of the south, which somewhat compromises its quality as a keeper in those places. The fruit is also good for fresh eating, apple sauce and cider. The tree shows resistance to apple scab and cedar-apple rust. However, it is sucseptible to collar rot, which can eventually kill the tree.
Hackworth – Although the Hackworth was long thought to have originated in Alabama, in 1907 Mr. T. W. Dermington wrote a letter to the USDA, claiming that the tree had in fact sprouted from seed in Lavonia, Georgia. The red striped yellow fruit is excellent for fresh eating, pies and applesauce. The fruit ripens from July through August.
Hall – For many years this apple was thought to be extinct, despite its popularity throughout the South before 1900. However, we were lucky enough to procure this tree from Joyce Neighbors. This variety originated on the farm of Mr. Hall in Franklin County, North Carolina, sometime befor 1800, although the exact date is unknown. It is most likely a parent of Magnum Bonum, which originated around 1823. Lee Calhoun says that “the Hall combines two factors seldom found in the same southern apple—outstanding eating quality and good keeping ability. Its flavor has been described by such adjectives as saccharine, rich, excellent, luscious, vinous, the best,” (210). Calhoun surmises that one of the main factors in the almost dissappearance of such a popular apple is its lack of commercial appeal: the small size of the fruit was thought inferior for commerical production. Big orchards instead focused on large, visually appealing fruit, like the Ben Davis or the Red Delicious today. The fruit ripens from November through April.
Hammond – Just like the Hall, the Hammond was long thought to be extinct. However, we also pruchased this tree from Joyce Neighbors of Neighbors Nursery in Alabama. This tree originated in South Carolina and was first mentioned in 1858. The fruit keeps well through March. The tree produces green, medium-large fruit that ripens in November.
Hewe’s Crabapple – This apple is perhaps the most famous southern cider apple. In Jefferson’s orchards at Monticello, he focused on the cultivation of four apple varieties, two for cider and two for dessert apples. Hewe’s Crab was one of the varieties he grew for cider. He would blend juice from Hewe’s Crab with that of Taliaferro, now extinct, to make an excellent cider. Hewe’s Crab was the most important horticultural cultivar in 18th century Virginia, attesting to the importance of cider in the diet, for the fruit makes for unpleasant eating. In most of the south, Hewe’s Crab is a fall/winter apple, although it can ripen as early as mid-August in the Deep South. The small green fruit is often covered with puplish red dots. The tree is fairly disease resistant and is thought to be a cross between the traditional domestic apple and the native crabapple.
Hopples Antique Gold
Horse Apple – The age and origin of this variety are unknown, yet it most likely dates to before 1800. Accounts have claimed that Nash County, North Carolina is the home to Horse, others claim Georgia and Tennessee. However, we can be certain that it is a very old variety with great importance to family apple production throughout the South. As and eating apple, Horse if fairly tart. Old nursery catalogs describe Horse as excellent for cider, vinegar, drying and cooking. The tree bears heavily in the heat of summer, with medium-large yellow fruit. The fruit can occasionally have a red blush when ripe.
July Delicious – This apple was bred by Mr. Russell L. Baker of Baileyton, Alabama sometime between 1930 to 1945. It was one of 2,275 seedlings that he planted out in his experimental orchard at the Empire Nursery. He was specifically seeking apple varieties that would do well in the South. Mr. Baker described the tree as blight-free and “self-shaping”. The fruit shoud be thinned, it keeps well and is good for many different uses. Fruit ripens in the mid-summer. Doyle Baker or Fayette County, Alabama supplied Joyce Neighbors with scion wood, and it was from Mrs. Neighbors that we received our July Delicious tree.
Junaluska – This apple was once thought to be extinct, and we purchased our tree from Joyce Neighbors. This tree most likely originated in the early 1800’s, although the exact date is unknown. As the story goes, this tree (also called Junaluskee) was named after the Cherokee Chief Junaluskee, who at one time resided in either Macon or Cherokee County, North Carolina. It was suposedly his favorite apple. When the state purchased the territory on which Chief Junaluskee resided, he refused to part with the part of his land where the Junaluska tree grew. In response, the Commissioners paid the Chief and extra $50 for his tree. The fruit is large (weighing from one to one-and-a-half pounds) and globular in form. The skin is dull yellow with spotted pale red on the sunny side. The fruit ripens in November and keeps until March.
King Luscious – This tree first sprouted near Hendersonville, North Carolina around 1928. The tree is small, blooms late, bears annually, needs little pruning and is resistant to apple scab. The skin is deep red and the fruit ripens in October. The fruit is good for fresh eating when ripe, but can be picked earlier for cooking.
Limbertwigs – There are a large array of Limbertwigs, and the origin of the first Limbertwig is unknown. However, it is specultated that the first probably appeared in the late 1700s amongst the numerous seedling orchards throughout what is now the Eastern United States. Most Limbertwigs do have drooping branches, like their name would imply, but not all do have such branch structures. What then unintes Limbertwigs into their own class of apples? According to the late Limbertwig collector and connoiseur, Mr. Henry Morton of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the uninting characteristic is the distinct flavor of Limbertwings. In his seminal work on Southern apples, Lee Calhoun quotes Mr. Morton on Limbertwigs: “…[Limbertwigs] all have one distinguishing characteristic and that is there distinct Limbertwig flavor. No other apple that I have ever tasted has this particular flavor of Limbertwig. Once a person has tasted a Black Limbertwig or a Royal Limbertwig, one can then be able to determine if a variety is a Limbertwig,” (98).
Old Fashioned Winesap
Winter Sweet Paradise
Young American Crabapple