We often like to brag that Seattle is one of the few major urban cities in the US that still has an extensive network of orchards that include precious heirloom fruit trees. Many of them were planted decades ago, or some even over a century ago, often in hopes of having a reliable food source to help feed their families and neighborhoods. Their rich history and stories are some of the reason why we are drawn to fruit trees. And Seattle has plenty of them!
It’s becoming harder to see the remains of those orchards in our increasingly densifying city. But if you have a “very old tree” in your backyard or neighborhood, that tree may be part of a historic orchard from decades ago – and you can help figure it out!
Lori Brakken, fruit tree and apple identification expert who has donated her services at many City Fruit events, and Barb Burrill, tree care advisor and former City Fruit public orchard manager, have been working on a research project on Seattle’s historic orchards.
Their goal is to identify the oldest fruit trees in Seattle and determine which ones were part of actual orchards. Another aim of this project is to identify heirloom fruit varieties still growing in Seattle, plus to locate old “versions” of more common varieties, both of which could be used to graft new trees to preserve that precise variety.
If you have, or know of an old fruit tree in your neighborhood, Lori and Barb would like to hear from you! The tree must be within the Seattle city limits, growing on public or private property. You must have permission to show them the tree if it is on private property. Email Barb at firstname.lastname@example.org with the information requested below. Then Barb will be in touch about scheduling a visit to estimate its age and give a basic assessment of its health. A visit is more likely to happen soon if there are multiple trees in the same neighborhood, so talk to your neighbors who also have old trees!
- Estimated age of tree. They are most interested in trees that would be visible on aerial photos from 1936, so the tree would have to be at least 90 years old. If the tree seems old but you aren’t sure about the age of your tree, send in the information, anyway.
- Variety of fruit if known (not just plum or apple, but the variety of plum or apple.)
- Have you heard stories about the tree or been told “there used to be an old orchard here”? Is the tree pictured in old family photos or the city archive photos of a house? Include anything that tells a story about the tree.
- Address of the tree and specific location on lot (back yard, side yard, etc.)
- Name of the neighborhood where the tree is located.
- Name and email address of the contact person.