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In Search of Jan van Riebeeck's Apple

January 30th, 2018

Just above the cultivated Kirstenbosch Gardens, amongst the lush indigenous forestry on the Southeast slopes of Table Mountain, grows an ancient wine apple tree. During the latter half of the seventeenth century, this sturdy tree was part of Jan van Riebeeck’s farm, Boschheuvel. It is believed to be the original wine apple cultivar that was brought to the Cape by Van Riebeeck to provide fresh produce to scurvy-ridden sailors and is the oldest apple tree in South Africa. Whilst working and living in Kirstenbosch Gardens I’d often seek it out to pluck a plump apple from its branches and enjoy its unique flavour.

This tree, as well as a younger relative perched alongside the dams on top of Table Mountain, was the destination of one of my most recent expeditions. With the permission of SANParks, and in the company of my two hiking companions, our fruit specialists oom Anton Roux and horticulturist Talitha Cherry, I went about collecting budding and grafting material from these two ancient apple cultivars to bring back to Babylonstoren. Here at the nursery, the cuttings were grafted by oom Anton onto a fuji apple rootstock and we are thrilled to see the first young leaves emerging already. We will only be able to identify the specific cultivar once it starts bearing fruit but we have a suspicion that it might be one of two ancient varieties, either the kroonappel or the wijnappel. Only time will tell.

  by Ernst van Jaarsveld, Master Botanist at Babylonstoren

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