It takes a long time for a new discovered fruit, vegetable or plant to make it to market.
Seven years is the average for a newly cultivated daylily or iris, but in the case of the Lady Alice apple, it took nearly 25 years.
Cultivated by the Rainier Fruit Co. in the state of Washington, the tree that produces Lady Alice was discovered about that long ago by chance on a farm near Gleed, Wash. It was around 1979 when a plow disc hit the base of a Red Delicious tree and injured its trunk. From this damaged section, a small shoot appeared and, out of curiosity, was allowed to grow and bear fruit.
After years of preserving and propagating this new variety, Rainier Fruit became the exclusive distributor of Lady Alice apples.
The apples began appearing locally about two weeks ago, but Rainier was generous enough to send me a few of the apples to sample. Just as described, the apple has dense flesh that is sweet but with a hint of tartness. In addition, the flesh is slow to turn brown once exposed to the air and that makes it great for fruit plates or salads.
Lady Alice was named for the mother of the company's founder. For more information about Lady Alice apples, visit the Rainier website at www.rainierfruit.com.
The story of Lady Alice is interesting, but not unique. Many new plants are propagated from what growers call ''sports.'' A sport is basically a plant in which an offshoot seems to assume a new or different characteristic than the rest of the plant. These mutations emerge from seemingly healthy plants or, like Lady Alice, from plants that have been damaged.
The parentage of sports are often unknown. In the case of Lady Alice, which grew in an orchard along with many different varieties, it is impossible to know what crossed with what to end up a Lady Alice variety.
A common example of plants that began as sports are variegated plants. Variegated plants are those with leaves that are multi-colored, usually striped or streaked with cream or white as well as green. Variegation nearly always originates from normally all green plants when something happens to cause a mutation. If the sport is lucky, someone will notice and mutation will be nurtured and allowed to grow. Once mature, cuttings can be taken that would be clones of the mutated plant.
But it doesn't stop there. Before a new variety of plant can be marketed from that mutated plant, it not only has to go through years of testing for its growth habits and potential popularity, but it also has be able to produce offspring that have its exact characteristics. And finally, enough offspring have to be grown to accommodate a potential market.
In many cases, the mutated plants can revert back to their original parentage if some care isn't taken. I have a variegated phlox in my garden that is a good example of this. Each year, stalks with leaves that are solid green start to grow from the plant's crown. If I were to ignore this, the green shoots would overtake the variegated shoots and before long there wouldn't be any variegation at all. To keep this plant in line, I cut off the green shoots before they have a chance to bloom.
Not all sports make good plants. The mutation that created Lady Alice could very well have been bitter and unappetizing. Flowers that emerge from a rose sport could be ugly and unscented with distorted branches and leaves. It takes a lot of patience to nurture a young sport only to find out it wasn't worth the effort. Nature can be truly amazing.
You may be wondering why Lady Alice is only just now being shipped to stores across the nation when apple season is generally in the fall. According to Rainier Fruit Co., storing this variety for several weeks helps enhance the flavor of the fruit. When first harvested, the apple's skin is described as having a bright pink stripe over a creamy-yellow background. After storage, this yellow background deepens to a richer banana shade of yellow.
Lady Alice won't be in stores long. It is only available from February through May or until supplies are depleted. Locally, I have found Lady Alice at Walmart in Cortland. However, as it gains in popularity, I wouldn't be surprised if more stores begin to carry it next season.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go make a pie.