Utilising Tasmania’s Garden of Apple Ancestors

27 Apr 2023

The Australian cider industry is securing its future by checking the identity of cider apple varieties grown across Australia after research reveals some may be incorrectly named.

Cider Australia is collaborating with geneticists at Washington State University and the University of Queensland to compare the genetic fingerprints of cider apples in Australian commercial production with global datasets to establish if the varieties are true to type.

Samples are being collected from the extensive cider apple collection at Grove in Tasmania, together with private and publicly-owned orchards in Orange, New South Wales and other sites. Grove has been a primary source of materials for apple propagation and breeding in Australia and overseas for decades.

Cider Australia President Warwick Billings said confirming the identity of cider apples is important for the industry as it expands its plantings of purpose-grown cider fruit which are used to make premium styles of cider.

‘Different cider apple varieties can have wildly different properties and cider makers select and blend varieties to achieve many different styles of cider, said Warwick.

‘This is a fantastic opportunity to connect with global resources – the collaborative worldwide dataset is now at more than 6,000 apple cultivars (i.e. officially named varieties in cultivation) and selections – and to build an appreciation for the wealth of genetic materials held in Australia’, Warwick said.

Samples will be DNA-profiled by the MyFruitTree research lab located at Washington State University’s Department of Horticulture, using SNP genotyping technologies developed for use in US apple breeding programs.  

The Grove apple collection has global importance both historically and for current research on apple variety genetics being led by Professor Cameron Peace of Washington State University.

‘Grove is the only known source of several ancestors of worldwide significance and has been very influential in my research in establishing the pedigree relationships and origins of old and new cultivars’, said Cameron.

‘The materials must be preserved so they can be used in breeding of new and improved varieties to address future production needs, and the trees are also critical in genomics research to understand the valuable genetic factors they carry’, Cameron said.

‘As more of the uniqueness and identity of Grove cultivars are revealed, Grove will continue to supply collections and orchards with stock material of valuable Australian heirloom cultivars’, said Cameron

Dr Craig Hardner at the University of Queensland also uses materials from Grove in his genomic research, and is developing a new project that will use the collection as a vital resource for understanding climate changes adaptation and biosecurity resilience.

Cameron noted that some of the rare genetic factors of Australian heirloom cultivars in Grove are in descendant cultivars such as the Granny Smith, Cripps Pink, and Braeburn, while others have not yet been tapped.

‘There are several hundred more cultivars in the Grove collection still to be DNA-profiled and I expect more exciting discoveries when these are tested’, Cameron said.

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Media enquiries

Contact Cider Australia executive officer Jane Anderson on
0434 559 759 or office@cideraustralia.org.au or visit www.cideraustralia.org.au.

About Cider Australia 

Cider Australia is an independent, not-for-profit organisation funded by cider businesses and sponsors, established in 2012. It aims to build a sustainable cider category by undertaking activities that improve the quality of ciders produced and marketed in Australia. The organisation represents the interests of the cider industry to policy makers, calling for regulations and policies that support a diverse and evolving cider industry, and runs the national cider conference AusCider and the Australian Cider Awards.

About DNA-profiling

Samples are being tested by the MyFruitTree research lab located at Washington State University’s Department of Horticulture. MyFruitTree employs the SNP array and KASP genotyping techniques and draws upon data gathered from thousands of apple and sweet cherry cultivars, and their descendants, that have been growing across the United States and other regions. This is a publicly accessible, fee-for-service facility provided through Washington State University.

About the Grove Apple Collection

The Grove apple collection is located near Hobart, Tasmania and contains over 400 apple varieties including around 40 cider-specific apple varieties.

Historically, the addition of Grove collection DNA profiles to the worldwide collaborative dataset has revealed ancestors that help connect pedigrees of cultivars, revealed ancestors of current commercially important cultivars, provided reference DNA profiles for verifying identity and revealing parentage of cultivars and selections in other regions of the world, and provided many new DNA profiles of cultivars not present in any other of the dozens of collections examined worldwide. 

Grove serves a key international role in conserving, understanding, and supplying the diversity of cultivated apple. It has supplied other collections and orchards with cultivars not obtainable anywhere else (often such cultivars are not Australian-bred but those that arose and once existed in Europe or North America hundreds of years ago). It has been used to restock the largest apple cultivar collection in the world, the Brogdale collection in the UK. The USDA collection holds many cultivars that came from the Grove collection. Other apple collections around the world have also obtained old cultivars sourced from Grove that were otherwise functionally extinct.

Historical information on the Grove collection can be found at: https://www.horticulture.com.au/globalassets/hort-innovation/historic-reports/the-reconditioning-of-the-pome-fruit-varietal-collection-at-grove-tasmania-ap10024.pdf

About Cameron Peace

Cameron Peace (Professor of Horticulture at Washington State University) is a long-time member of the international apple genetics community and a fruit enthusiast with family ties to Australia and the Tasmanian apple industry. Cameron’s research focuses on connecting pedigrees of apple cultivars, genetically dissecting traits of interest, tracking origins of valuable genetic factors, and determining which cultivars have inherited those factors and could pass them on. His research highlights the historical significance and connections of cultivars worldwide, predicts performance of cultivars in commercial settings, and encourages and provides useful information for breeding the next generations of improved cultivars.

Cameron has conducted extensive historical research on the Tasmanian apple germplasm. In 2019, Cameron DNA-profiled approximately 200 cultivars from the Grove collection that he and local researcher and apple industry expert Gordon Brown identified as important for collection management purposes and/or historical significance for Tasmania and Australia. The profiling revealed some interesting discoveries. The Grove collection contains both parents of the Granny Smith, which is a grandparent of the Cripps Pink (and its full sibling, Cripps Red, aka Sundowner®). It also contains ancestors of the popular commercial cultivar Braeburn and the cider apple cultivar, once also popular for fresh eating, Sturmer Pippin. He also found a significant proportion of the Grove cultivars tested to be incorrectly identified – some were determined to be a different cultivar than labelled, some had their correct identity determined, and some turned out to be the rootstock rather than the intended scion.

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