Dying apple trees
Earlier this spring, I decided to take a winter walk around the places I bowhunt. I hunt two farms here in the southern tier and, although I have several stand set-ups, my favorite ones are located overlooking some wild apple trees on each of the farms I hunt. Throughout archery season and even into the firearms season, I’ve always counted on deer coming to one of the trees to feast on the windfall apples. Not anymore.
A few years ago and, continuing into this past year, the wild apples the deer relished and the ones I relied on to attract them have just about disappeared. In the past, many of the trees on the property had limbs that drooped with fruit. Lately, if there was any fruit on them at all it was sparse, tiny, and misshapen. It appears the trees have fallen victim to a disease of some sort and it’s killing them. Without the advice of a professional to guide me and wanting to discover why this was happening, I did a little bit of sleuthing to find out what have been the cause of their demise.
From what I observed in the field the problem may be due to a fungus called Venturia inaequalis. The organism causes what apple growers refer to as apple scab. While hunting spring turkeys last May, I checked the trees when the young leaves were emerging and discovered a lesion on the tree’s new leaves. On the bottom of the leaf, the spots appeared to be darker than the leaf color itself and on top, they appeared to be black.
By late summer the infected leaves fell off many of the trees leaving them looking as stark as they would in mid-winter. Some of the trees still managed to produce fruit but, as we noted earlier, the apples had dark, scabby lesions and were found mainly at the top of the trees.
It seems the problem begins when the infected leaves fall to the ground at the end of the growing season and remain there all winter. The infected foliage provides an ideal vector for a spring invasion. To compound matters, rainy weather provides ideal conditions for this attack and wind can blow the fungal spores up onto the new leaves, infecting them.
Considering what’s happening to the ash, dogwood, beech, oak, and hemlock trees in our forests it appears it won’t be long before the wild apple trees disappear as well. I can only hope their future isn’t as dire as it seems but, I’m not optimistic. There were at least ten wild apple trees I knew about on the properties I hunt and all but one are dead. What’s even more discouraging is the remaining one didn’t look very healthy and bore little fruit last fall. This summer may determine its fate.