Dr. Charles Lapins selected the Lapins cherry more than 40 years ago.
Charles Lapins came to North America as a farm laborer after World War II, not suspecting that his name would ultimately be known to cherry growers the world over.
Lapins, whose real name was Karlis O. Lapins, grew up in Latvia, where he taught agronomy at an agricultural university. He and his family left Latvia during World War II and spent four years in refugee camps in Germany. Often, men in the camps were found jobs, but their families were not allowed to join them until later. Dr. Lapins and his family were determined to stay together.
He finally took a job as a farm laborer in Oliver, British Columbia, the only job that enabled him to take his family along, too. A year later, he went to work at Agriculture Canada’s Summerland research center as a laborer. He was then assigned a special project for the British Columbia Fruit Growers’ Association. Growers had been finding that when they received fruit trees from nurseries, some were not the varieties they were supposed to be, and they didn’t know they were mislabeled until the trees bore fruit. Lapins said it was usually a genuine mistake on the part of the nurseries. He visited nurseries in the province, figured out how to identify the different varieties from one-year-old shoots, and compiled a bulletin to help inspectors identify varieties in the nursery.
Lapins then spent a year studying for a master’s degree at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. When Arthur Mann, plant breeder at Summerland, retired in 1953, Lapins applied for the job. In 1957–1958, he spent a year at Rutgers University, New Jersey, where he earned his doctorate at the age of 59.
The cherry that now bears his name is a late-maturing cross of Van and Stella that he selected in 1971. It was not released until 1983, almost a decade after he retired. The tree ripens about two days after Lambert, and the tree is self-fertile and more productive than many commercial cultivars.
With very few exceptions, the names of cherry varieties released by Summerland have begun with the letter S. But when it came time to name the Van-Stella cross, Hugh Dendy, a grower in Kelowna who had been testing it and considered it one of the best he had ever grown, said he already had named the cherry after its originator, and he felt that Dr. Lapins should be honored for his work in developing self-fertile cherries and for recognizing the need for high-quality, late-season varieties. The name stuck.
Interviewed by the Good Fruit Grower in 1997, Dr. Lapins said the cherry had turned out better than he thought it was when he selected it because growers have used gibberellic acid sprays to delay the ripening and increase the size. It ripens at a time when there’s usually no heavy rain.
In the mid-1990s, cherry growers in Washington and Oregon began to expand their variety mix beyond Bing and Rainier. Lapins held great promise to expand the harvest season, reduce vulnerability to rain damage, and supply the market with a larger, more attractive cherry, according to Lynn Long, Oregon State University extension educator. By 2005, Lapins was the second-most popular cherry grown in The Dalles region of Oregon, accounting for 17 percent of the crop.
But when the first crops of Lapins were shipped in the late 1990s, reports came back of badly pitted fruit arriving in international markets.
Although efforts were made to determine the reason for the pitting, problems have continued. Long believes that by harvesting fruit at earlier maturity, properly pruning to balance the crop load, and carefully handling the fruit after harvest, it is possible to grow high-quality Lapins, as Canadian growers have been doing for many years.
Tree fruit surveys in Washington show that planting of the Lapins cherry peaked in the late 1990s and then dropped off with only 16 acres planted in 2010. There are now 2,022 acres of the variety in the ground in Washington, making it the state’s sixth-most important variety.
In 1992, Dr. Lapins received the Wilder Medal, which is awarded by the American Pomological Society for outstanding service in horticulture, and especially for the introduction of meritorious fruit varieties. He died in 2004 at the age of 95.