Old fashioned or ‘heritage’ fruit trees including apple, quince, fig, plum, peach and pear trees are increasingly popular due to their extra flavour and nutritional qualities. In supermarkets only a limited range of commercial fruit varieties is available to us.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries the diversity was huge. Old nursery catalogues were filled with plums, peaches, pears and apples of numerous varieties, few of which are grown today.
The heritage fruit trees that exist in Australia today are clonally descended from trees brought to our shores by the early settlers, when no plant quarantine laws existed.
Cloning means that the new trees are genetically identical to their parents. Our heritage trees actually have the same genetic code as the original trees that grew centuries ago in Great Britain and Europe. For example, one apple variety, “Court Pendu Plat”, is 1500 years old – the oldest known apple variety. Introduced into Europe during Roman times, it flourishes to this day, here in Australia.
Good fortune rather than good stock control limited the number of plant diseases brought into Australia in the early days of colonization. Although local controls were exercised through each colony’s administration, by 1879 it was recognised that some quarantine measures needed to be put in place for the continent. On 30 March 1908, the Commonwealth Quarantine service came into operation and took over quarantine stations in every Australian state. However, before 1879, there was no limit to the varieties of fruit trees that could be imported into this country. Many of those old genetic lines survive to this day but sadly, many have been lost.
WPHO is making a range of old fruit tree varietes available again to home gardeners, by renovating the old orchard, re-planting it with historic fruit varieties and holding Grafting Days to distribute trees to the community.
Why Preserve Heritage Fruits?
• Flavour and nutritional benefits.
• Biodiversity – Preservation of vital genetic diversity insures against pests and diseases in the future.
• Longer picking season with early & late ripening
• Culture – Heritage varieties are living history.
Collections like the old orchard at Werribee Park Mansion are precious.
Anyone who is the custodian of an old fruit tree should treasure it.