There’s a new apple on the block

MN 447 is a small, red “ugly duckling” apple with a tropical taste.

by Andy Mannix

Pretty soon, the iPhone won’t be the only new “apple” on the market.

This fall, University fruit breeders are looking to the public to name the newest member of the Minnesota apple family – breed MN 447.

After 99 years and 25 different breeds of apples that make up the program’s history, this will be the University’s first apple named by the public.

“The idea was just to have a little fun with the naming,” said David Bedford, research scientist at the University’s apple breeding program. “Because it has such unusual characteristics, it deserves an interesting name.”

The University breeds apples at the landscape arboretum in Chaska, Minn. The arboretum is made up of over 1,000 acres and has an extensive repertoire of apples, including Minnesota favorites Haralson and Honeycrisp.

Although the public has not had the opportunity to taste MN 477 yet, Leslie Cooney, the arboretum’s membership manager, said she’s been receiving hundreds of entries everyday based on the description on the arboretum’s Web site.

“I think that people are happy to participate and feel a certain pride in it as well,” Cooney said.

Name entry forms are being accepted at the arboretum by mail, e-mail and in person.

James Luby, the University’s fruit breeding supervisor, described MN 447 as a small, red, “ugly duckling” apple with a firm texture.

However, the most unique attribute of the apple is the taste, he said.

“It’s one of the more unusual apples I’ve tasted in all my years here,” Luby said. “And one of the strongest.”

Bedford described the “intense” taste to be somewhere in between sugar cane, molasses and tropical punch.

“It’s not for the weak of heart,” Bedford said.

Although it’s still years away from being available for purchase, the apple is actually one of the program’s oldest selections.

The University decided years ago that it was too unusual of an apple to be sold commercially, and was instead used as a “breeding parent” for other apples such as Keepsake and Sweet 16, Bedford said.

MN 447 is also the grandparent of the popular Honeycrisp apple.

But now people are interested in a wider variety of apples and University breeders think the unusual characteristics of MN 447 might interest niche markets, Luby said.

Because the apple is going to be less commercialized than others, the breeders agreed the naming process didn’t have to be quite as scrupulous as it’s been for mainstream apples.

The arboretum is holding a tasting event Oct. 6-7 where MN 447 will be available for its first public sampling. People will then be invited to submit name ideas.

Caston Johnson, first-year student at the University and employee at the arboretum, said allowing the public to contribute names is an interesting way to get people involved.

The arboretum will be accepting name ideas through the end of October. The list of potential names is already approximately 700.

After all of the names are submitted, the list will go to a committee that will make the final decision, Cooney said.

Luby said when naming an apple, it is difficult to come up with a unique name that also fits the apple.

“Naming these apples is probably harder than naming your kids,” said Luby. “We spend more time doing this than I ever did naming my children.”