Britain's newest variety of apple discovered by a walker

Jack Hardy
he apple initially flummoxed fruit experts and is thought to have dropped from a tree that could be 100 years old - PA
he apple initially flummoxed fruit experts and is thought to have dropped from a tree that could be 100 years old - PA

A “pale and mottled” apple discovered by chance by a walker is Britain’s newest variety, the Royal Horticultural Society has confirmed.

Discovered in a large area of ancient Woodland in Wiltshire, the apple initially flummoxed fruit experts and is thought to have dropped from a tree that could be 100 years old. 

It has a dull yellow hue and is said to carry an acidic taste with a flavour reminiscent of cider apples, which is thought will lend itself best to cooking rather than eating. 

Typically, popular varieties of apples are cultivated by farmers taking a cut from an existing tree and grafting them onto rootstock to ensure the new tree and its apples are the same. 

This has meant it is easier for experts to spot an outlier, because the same few methods have been used for cultivating apples for thousands of years.

The newest variety is thought to have come from a tree that may be at least a century old, making it a much rarer find than other types of apple varieties that have been uncovered.

It was stumbled across by Archie Thomas, who lives in Wiltshire’s Nadder Valley, as he walked along a wooded trackway near his home earlier this month. 

Mr Thomas, who works for the wild plant and fungi conservation charity Plantlife, said it was “unlike any I’d seen before” and had come from a lone apple tree in the hedgerow.

He was keen to identify what appeared to be an unusual type of apple to see if it was a known cultivated variety, or cultivar.

If it was a new variety of apple altogether, he knew there was a chance he would be able to name it himself. 

Archie Thomas discovered the new apple by chance earlier this month - PA
Archie Thomas discovered the new apple by chance earlier this month - PA

“While I am certainly no fruit expert it immediately struck me as highly unusual, unlike any apple I’d seen before,” Mr Thomas said.

“Excited by the pale and mottled oddity, I set about trying to get it identified with a view to perhaps one day being able to name it.

“That was the dream, but I did half suspect it would turn out to be something much less exciting than it is.”

There ensued what Mr Thomas described as a “wild apple chase” as a succession of experts on fruit were baffled by his find.

He initially received help from colleagues at Plantlife before he was finally pointed in the direction of the fruit identification service at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)

Jim Arbury, a fruit specialist at the RHS, inspected three of the apples and informed Mr Thomas it was not a planted cultivar, but a new variety which he could propagate and name.

It was, the expert said, “a very interesting apple” and possibly a cross between a cultivated apple and a wild Malus sylvestris, a European crab apple. 

“It tastes quite good. It’s a cooking apple or dual purpose, you can eat it, it’s got a bit of acidity but it’s got some flavour, and some tannin, which is what you have in cider apples,” Mr Arbury said.

He added that the new type of apple could be used with other apples for cider.

The age of the tree on which the apple grew makes it a rare find, as most varieties of apples that are discovered by chance have more prosaic origins.

These include apples that are a hybrid between a supermarket apple and a wild apple, often from trees which grew from apples thrown from car windows, or apples from the trees of amateur orchard growers. 

Dr Trevor Dines, from Plantlife, said: “Archie has joined a small and select group of people that have discovered something entirely new in our natural world.

“I absolutely adore apples and Archie’s new find is breathtaking.

“And what a romantic origin, unearthed deep in a wood with ancient roots. We can only speculate how it arose, but that’s the joy of botany – you never quite know what you’ll find, or how it got there.

“These sort of mysteries only serve to deepen our love of the countryside.”