Apple Trees at the Wells Reserve
Beyond the old farm buildings, apple trees are one of the few prominent signs of the Wells Reserve’s agricultural history. It is natural to wonder whether they are survivors from the days of Laudholm Farms—or even earlier.
County records from the mid-19th century show annual "orchard product" values of $20 to $30 for this property (at the time, the Clark Farm). It is reasonable to assume these orchard products were apples, especially since an 1881 advertisement for the sale of the property specified “200 thrifty apple trees bearing choice fruit” among the farm’s characteristics. It is unlikely those trees survived to the present day.
The status of apples at "The Elms" and "Laudholm Farms" (about 1882-1982) has not been fully researched. Prohibition and the Great Depression both negatively impacted the keeping of apple trees, and a couple of especially brutal winters at about that time killed millions of trees across New England.
Stewarding Apple Trees
The reserve's stewardship program has promoted several “tree rescue” efforts over the years. In 2007, Day of Caring volunteers from York County United Way began to hack their way through decades of overgrowth to “free a tree” in an old orchard along the Barrier Beach Trail. More recently, Volunteers for Peace and the reserve's “Team Lorax” volunteers continued the efforts there and elsewhere. With gloves, loppers, and an occasional chainsaw, dozens of assistants have made real progress against the thorny barberry surrounding some old trees and the bittersweet vines enveloping others.
Mapping Apple Trees
Between about 2019 and 2022, most of the 700-plus apple trees on the property were mapped using the ArcGIS Survey123 application. The results are presented in the StoryMap below.
Some samples from various trees have been investigated by regional apple experts. Most trees now living on the property are likely the genetically diverse "wild and seedling" descendants of heritage heirloom apples from the orchard of yore. As such, they would each be unique, having grown from seed rather than by grafting. Fruits from many of the trees have been characterized, with details presented in the StoryMap below. Further investigations are ongoing.
Two promising varieties from the reserve were entered in the third annual Wild & Seedling Pomological Exhibition in November 2022.
Visitors may taste apples while on their autumn walks, but harvesting is not permitted. Fallen apples are for wildlife and regeneration.
Additional Activities and Resources
- Fall 2018: Watermark article: Are Heirlooms Hiding in the Brush?
- September 2022: "Historic Apples of Maine" presentation by John Bunker, author of Apples and the Art of Detection.
- Spring 2023: Watermark article: apples—how 'bout them?