Falmouth library hopes to preserve legacy of doomed apple tree

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FALMOUTH — A beloved apple tree that generations of patrons at Falmouth Memorial Library have relied on to provide a great baking apple will live on even after a planned $5.62 million expansion project.

John Bunker, who runs the heritage orchard at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, plans to graft the tree with the hope of creating saplings, which could then be sold as a library fundraiser.

The library is making headway on raising its half of the capital costs for the renovation and expansion project, which has been in the planning stages for several years. But it is also looking for new and unique ways to bring in funds.

This week Bunker is expected to come to Falmouth to cut the grafts and see if he can determine the age of the tree and identify the type of apple it produces.

No one in town knows the exact variety of fruit the tree bears, or how old the tree is. Andi Jackson-Darling, the library director, said she is pretty sure the tree was already on the grounds when the library association purchased the former Iverson home at the corner of Depot and Lunt roads in 1952.

Bunker said he may never be able to determine the variety of apple the tree produces, but said knowing it’s approximate age would be a huge help because “different varieties were planted at different times” and “historically certain varieties were grown (specifically) in Cumberland County.”

He also doesn’t know, at this point, whether the apple tree in the library’s side yard was grown from the graft of another tree or grew from seed. Bunker said if the tree grew from a seed, no one will ever know what type of apple it produces.

“People come from all over town to pick the apples,” said Marsha Clark, president of the library’s board of trustees. “No one knows what is, but (the apples are) incredibly sweet and make great pies.”

Clark said as part of the renovation and expansion project the library hopes to save as many of the trees on its property as possible. But the apple tree, which is on the Depot Road side of the building, will have to come down.

That’s why she was intent on getting Bunker to come to Falmouth to graft the tree. She sees the project as “a way to preserve that piece of (library) history.”

Bunker said the best time to cut a graft is in the winter, when the tree is dormant. 

In addition to overseeing the Maine Heritage Apple Orchard in Unity, Bunker also owns the Super Chilly Farm in Palermo and works for Fedco, a cooperative seed and garden supply company based in Clinton.

“All I need is a tiny piece, that’s enough to start a new tree,” Bunker said. However, it will be a couple years before the grafts get strong enough to become saplings that can be replanted.

And, Bunker said, it could be another three to 10 years before anyone who buys a sapling with the DNA of the library apple tree could get a crop.

“Apple trees are definitely a long-term investment,” he said. “But someday, someone will appreciate it.”

Ellen Conway, assistant director at the library, has made pies using the apples from the library tree for the past several years.

“I will be thrilled if the tree is saved somehow during construction,” Conway said. “I am absolutely, 100 percent in support of the library project, but it would break my heart to lose the tree.”

She said she comes from a long line of pie-makers, and especially loves making fresh fruit pies.

“(But) until I realized that the library tree’s apples were so good, I’d never made a pie with apples that I had picked myself,” Conway said. “I like using apples that actually cook down and get soft in a pie, and these apples are tart and very juicy, and make a delicious pie.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

The apple tree at the Falmouth Memorial Library is known for producing yellow apples with a red/orange blush that make flavorful pies and applesauce.