Black Limbertwig Apple

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The Black Limbertwig apple (Malus domestica v. Black Limbertwig) belongs to the Limbertwig apple family. The slender branches arc downward, “like a weeping willow,” particularly when burdened with fruit. The Black Limbertwig conforms to this description. The fruit ranges from medium to large in size, and spheroidal in form. The surface is dark red with light lenticels. The stem is short and set in a deep cavity. The flavor of limbertwig apples is quite distinctive. There is a smokey and musky tang over top of a deep sweet base. The yellow flesh is juicy, with a good structure of sugars and acids. The juiciness of the Black Limbertwig and the intensity of the flavor made it cherished as a winter eating apple and also as a cider apple.
This apple was highly popular during the late 20th century, cultivated as a winter apple, and was one of the most popular out of the Limbertwig family.
The propagation of the Black Limbertwig is now in the hands of capable and experienced nursery professionals. Because the trees themselves are not so productive or fruit to entire mass market cider makers to plant mega orchards, the size of plantings will remain entirely within the scope of human, not mechanical harvest.
In 1886 nurseryman J. D. Killian of Tarlton Tennesse made scion wood of the Black Limbertwig Apple available to orchards and nurseries in his region for the first time. A pomologist in McMinnville described it as “a large, smooth apple, very dark red in color, firm meat and finely flavored” (McMinnville Southern Standard (October 2, 1886), 2). Killian’s “Old Reliable Nursery” in Grundy County had opened in 1868 and offered apples from its inception. The Black Limbertwig was the best of his creations. By 1891 the variety was being recommended for cultivation in tidewater Virginia. It was classified as a winter apple. In 1914 the Georgia Horticultural Society examined and recommended the Black Limbertwig apple, an action that has mistakenly prompted numbers of historical apple lovers to regard it as having a Georgia nativity. Its historical region of cultivation was in that area of Tennessee between Nashville and Chattanooga. There was never a listing of the Black Limbertwig in a major nursery catalog. Yet it spread throughout TN and GA as persons secured cuttings.
Though the Black Limbertwig is particularly revered by southern heirloom apple fanciers, it has never been cultivated as a commodity apple. All surviving orchards are small. The limbertwigs were a fortunate family of apples because it found a guardian, Henry Morton, who collected every extant strain he could find in the late 1970s and 80s, before the old trees expired. 40 some varieties. In an October 12, 1984 interview with the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Morton said, when sampling several apples, "let’s see what this one is . . . Let me Taste it. Black Limbertwig. That’s the best Limbertwig growing." Morton’s recommendation was enough to insure that a cadre of heritage fruit growers secured wood to keep a geographically dispersed living archive of germ plasm growing. The development of southern cideries using heirloom apples will insure some demand for the Black Limbertwig in the future.

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Nominated by:David S. Shields