Vancouver’s Old Apple Tree may be dead, but its family tree goes on, with uncounted offspring growing around the area.
Charles Ray, Vancouver’s urban forester, said the city gave out 200 to 300 cuttings every year at the Old Apple Tree festival. The survival rate is about 50 percent depending on whether everything goes well.
“We don’t know how many are actually out there, but I would assume they’re around the region,” said Ray, who’s seen visitors from the Seattle area receive cuttings.
Hazel Dell resident David Poland was one of those festival attendees and got a cutting in 2017. Poland initially forgot about the cutting and left it on the ground outside before finally planting the following spring.
Now, it’s about 3 feet tall and has lots of green leaves, though it’s still too young to bear fruit.
“It’s very healthy. It didn’t want to die. I find that just amazing,” Poland said. “It matters to me that me and this tree have roots here.”
He surmises that the Old Apple tree survived for 194 years because it’s a hearty variety. The tree’s caretakers determined it was an English Greening apple tree whose seeds were brought to the Pacific Northwest by a naval officer.
One of the Old Apple Tree’s older and larger descendants is located at Hudson’s Bay High School.
In 1997, horticulture teacher Steve Lorenz got cuttings from the city and combined them with rootstalks he was given by a Clark College professor. Just a few months prior, the Old Apple Tree took a beating during a November snowstorm, practically breaking in two, according to Columbian archives. For the students, it was a lesson in both horticulture and history.
“I’m trying to get them to think that when you plant a tree, it gives you a connectedness to a place or a community,” Lorenz told The Columbian in 1997. “When they come back to Hudson’s Bay 20 years from now, they’ll know that they’ll have something they can relate to. At 18, that might not be as important. But maybe at 38, it will mean something to them.”
His advanced horticulture class grafted 20-some trees, but only one survived. Lorenz said the trees lost water during a remodel where the horticulture classroom was moved from the west side of campus to the east side.
In 1999, that surviving tree was dedicated to former student John Souders, who led the grafting project. That July, Souders had died in a scuba diving accident off Orcas Island in Puget Sound.
Another offspring of the Old Apple Tree is located on the north side of the Clark County Historical Museum. The 30-foot tree was planted in 1950 by Harley Mays, a stalwart supporter and caretaker of the Old Apple Tree. Mays then helped another former caretaker, Kelly Punteney, plant a cutting at East Fifth Street and Davis Avenue, cater-cornered to Pearson Air Museum.
Local historian Pat Jollota has tasted apples from the tree by the historical museum.
“It had that sourness of a baking apple. It was not an eating apple,” she said.
They’re also relatively small, maybe 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
Ray, the city’s urban forester, said the Old Apple Tree’s legacy will carry on through saplings that are growing around the tree and share the same root system. One of the saplings will be selected to become the new Old Apple Tree.
Brad Richardson, executive director at The Clark County Historical Museum, said the museum is trying to figure out a program to hold in remembrance of the Old Apple Tree. The museum has a cane that was reportedly carved from Old Apple Tree wood.