In Search of Jan van Riebeeck’s Apple

January 30th, 2018

Just above the cultivated Kirstenbosch Gardens, amongst the lush indigenous forestry on the Southeast slopes of Table Mountain, grows an ancient wine apple tree. During the latter half of the seventeenth century, this sturdy tree was part of Jan van Riebeeck’s farm, Boschheuvel. It is believed to be the original wine apple cultivar that was brought to the Cape by Van Riebeeck to provide fresh produce to scurvy-ridden sailors and is the oldest apple tree in South Africa. Whilst working and living in Kirstenbosch Gardens I’d often seek it out to pluck a plump apple from its branches and enjoy its unique flavour.

This tree, as well as a younger relative perched alongside the dams on top of Table Mountain, was the destination of one of my most recent expeditions. With the permission of SANParks, and in the company of my two hiking companions, our fruit specialists oom Anton Roux and horticulturist Talitha Cherry, I went about collecting budding and grafting material from these two ancient apple cultivars to bring back to Babylonstoren. Here at the nursery, the cuttings were grafted by oom Anton onto a fuji apple rootstock and we are thrilled to see the first young leaves emerging already. We will only be able to identify the specific cultivar once it starts bearing fruit but we have a suspicion that it might be one of two ancient varieties, either the kroonappel or the wijnappel. Only time will tell.

 

by Ernst van Jaarsveld, Master Botanist at Babylonstoren

Comments

  1. Mary says:

    A very exciting and lovely story. Keep us posted. thank you. MC

  2. Roz says:

    A while ago i bought a delicious Babylonstoren honey containing comb at the Spar at Broadacres Sandton
    I cannot find more.
    Who do you supply in Sandton /Johannesburg

  3. Nicolette says:

    That is so exiting!

    Thanks for info and picture!

  4. Jean says:

    I so wish I could come back for a 2nd visit, the history behind some of the plants, bushes and trees in the gardens are so exciting.
    I hope Jan Van Riebeeks’s apple tree thrives, and I get to see it one day.
    I enjoy your newsletters, keep them coming. I encourage anyone going your way to pay you guys a visit.

  5. Barbara says:

    That is such exciting and uplifting news to read in the midst of the gloom and doom of our water supply!

  6. Ros says:

    Wow! how exciting and interesting. look forward to seeing more on our next visit

  7. Sheila says:

    Wow……..cant wait to taste the result of your hard work.

  8. Emmie says:

    Great, would be very interessted in further info

  9. Richard says:

    Thank you. This is fascinating, and the connection with our past exciting. I, too, look forward to knowing what transpires. Wishing you much success.

  10. Wynand says:

    Please keep us informed of tghe development of the Kroon- or Wijnappel tree.
    I love agriculture and I love our history.
    Whats more, this being done on the ex farm of my old school buddy, David Louw, gives my heart an extra beat!
    Good Luck Ernst.

    • Babylonstoren says:

      Hi Wynand, we are happy to hear that. 🙂 We will only know the cultivar once the tree is stronger and more mature and starts bearing fruit (around 3 to 4 years). We will definitely update the blog once we know for sure.

  11. Maeve says:

    This is such exciting news – I do hope the grafting is successful and the little tree continues to grow. Babylonstoren is one of my all time favourite places (Kirstenbosch is another) so whenever I am in Cape Town, I make a point of visiting. I am a keen gardener and have a very small orchard at the bottom of our garden in North London.

  12. Kobus says:

    Thank you for the interesting Apple insert.. best of luck. Hope it is the correct apple tree of Jan van Riebeeck
    Regards,
    Kobus

  13. Jocelyn says:

    Thank goodness there are people like yourselves who are prepared to go to such effort to preserve this preciuos heritage

  14. Gay says:

    What an interesting, unique bit of fruit grower’s history. Wishing you great success with the grafting and growth..

  15. Gay says:

    What an interesting, unique bit of fruit grower’s history. Wishing you great success with the grafting and growth..

  16. Roger says:

    My wife and I will be visiting S.A. from the U.K.at the end of March and hope to eat in your restaurant. It was closed when we last visited a couple of years ago. We will look forward to seeing the apple tree cutting which has such a significant relation to your county’s founding.

  17. Roger says:

    My wife and I will be visiting S.A. from the U.K.at the end of March and hope to eat in your restaurant. It was closed when we last visited a couple of years ago. We will look forward to seeing the apple tree cutting which has such a significant relation to your county’s founding.

  18. Ebert says:

    That is so exciting, can’t wait to see the results. How long would we have to wait and is the somewhere where we can monitor this

    • Babylonstoren says:

      Very exciting! We will only know what the cultivar is once the tree is strong and mature and starts bearing fruit, which usually takes about 3 to 4 years. Once we know for sure what the cultivar is, we will update the blog.

  19. Benno says:

    Absolute wonderful that there are people who are doing research work in this field.

  20. EMMY says:

    I for one, am an avid visitor of Babylon Storen and love the innovative, and sometimes whimsical way, in which you tend to your beautiful gardens. It is so interesting to walk along your planting alleys and learn about all the new and exciting things that you try and do to better the crops that adorn, with such amazing colours, smells and tastes, your delicious food platters at BABEL restaurant.
    This particular article is so interesting to me as a tour guide in Cape Town, I’ll use its details when I’m next at Kirstenbosch with my Foreign visitors.
    Thank you. Emmy

  21. Isabelle says:

    wonderful story. please keep us posted.
    there are also older trees above the pump house in orange kloof where the overseer of the pipeline taking water to cape town resided. Might be worth a visit

  22. Jeanne says:

    Stunning article — thank you for sharing — looking forward to more!

  23. Mariana says:

    Well done Ernst. This is great news. I am looking forward to tasting the fruit.

  24. Diana says:

    In England as a child I grew up with Orange Cox’s Apples & a giant cooking apple, up to 1lb in weight.
    My mother only used the big cooking apples for cooking she put them whole with core out, in the oven with the Sunday roast.
    Cox’s where only for eating. I grew up on them.
    Than the EU and as mother said we were forced to eat the horrible European tasteless apples, as they were grown to perfect size for marketing.

    The farmers were courced into planting these tasteless appeles that upset my mother no end.
    As apples are non indigenous, does anyone grow the Lovely English Apples in the Cape.
    Blanche Matilda Jessie Marshall 1911 my beauitful mother would be very pleased if they were as she ended her days on South African soil……..

    Thanking you
    Diana ???? Blanche Oxborrow.

  25. Diana says:

    In England as a child I grew up with Orange Cox’s Apples & a giant cooking apple, up to 1lb in weight.
    My mother only used the big cooking apples for cooking she put them whole with core out, in the oven with the Sunday roast.
    Cox’s where only for eating. I grew up on them.
    Than the EU and as mother said we were forced to eat the horrible European tasteless apples, as they were grown to perfect size for marketing.

    The farmers were courced into planting these tasteless appeles that upset my mother no end.
    As apples are non indigenous, does anyone grow the Lovely English Apples in the Cape.
    Blanche Matilda Jessie Marshall 1911 my beauitful mother would be very pleased if they were as she ended her days on South African soil……..

    Thanking you
    Diana ???? Blanche Oxborrow.

  26. noreen says:

    how wonderful to hear this exciting news, love your enthusiasm for botany!

  27. Wonderful article providing us with knowledge and insight into the unique history of the Cape and the activities of our Dutch forebearers. Would love to see more such articles. xx

  28. Lesley says:

    Now that’s real news and good news too.

  29. Lisa says:

    I am coming to visit you in May 2018. Can’t wait to hear more about this project.

  30. Ernani says:

    Inspirational. Fruit…the history!

  31. Ken says:

    great story will have a look at it on my next visit

  32. Anthea says:

    We are so interested in your awesome news, first heard about it at Babylonstoren. Part of our history & so good to hear such positive, happy news! You are doing such a good job, Ernst & your team!

  33. Lynda says:

    This is fascinating and exciting!
    Can’t wait to hear which cultivar it is!
    Thank you for posting this information.

  34. Hannie says:

    Bringing history to life. Thank you Ernst for a good news story.
    Be it Wijn appel or Kroon appel, I am sure the flavor will be delicious with a maturity of its own.
    Hannie

  35. ursula says:

    The Garden of Remembrance at the Infruitec Research Institute in Stellenbosch also has a big selection of Plants of historic importance . (South Africa as well as the rest of the world) Fruit trees are part of the collection. You might find some more rarities for your collection. A visit will be interesting ….. EVERY PLANT HAS A STORY

  36. Shaun says:

    Interesting. Bringing a old antique back.

  37. Bruce Lindsay says:

    It reminds me of an olive tree that was in die GARDEN OF GETHSEMINE at the time of our LORD , JESUS.A minister from the DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH in SOUTH AFRICA was allowed to take a cutting after pruning the trees.
    This is now a fully fletched tree in a Karoo town called ABERDENE.
    It would be worth a visit.

  38. Bruce Lindsay says:

    It reminds me of an olive tree that was in die GARDEN OF GETHSEMINE at the time of our LORD , JESUS.A minister from the DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH in SOUTH AFRICA was allowed to take a cutting after pruning the trees.
    This is now a fully fletched tree in a Karoo town called ABERDENE.
    It would be worth a visit.

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