PHOTO BY RICHARD LEHNERT
New sports of popular apples—especially if they’re redder—always attract plenty of attention from growers.
So, you can imagine the kind of interest growers show in Royal Red Honeycrisp, the first sport of this hugely popular variety that has been trademarked and patented and is in the process of being commercialized.
There is so much interest, in fact, the folks at Willow Drive Nursery in Ephrata, Washington, which owns exclusive rights to it, are reluctant to talk about it.
It was patented a year ago. Growers saw the apples on plates in Willow Drive displays during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable, and Farm Market Expo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Washington State Horticultural Association Show in Wenatchee in December and also during the Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Convention in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in February.
Neal Manly, the chief marketing officer of Willow Drive, said the nursery has done no promotions and no advertising of Royal Red Honeycrisp and has not included it in its catalog.
“Frankly, we are afraid of starting a feeding frenzy,” he said. “We don’t want to create demand we can’t fill for eight years. But growers have found out about it, and orders have been coming in like crazy. I have a folder with enough orders to last through the year 2020.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. The demand is crazy.”
According to the patent information, the “extremely high-colored” sport was found by Quincy, Washington, grower Larry D. Jones in 2005, growing in an orchard he had topworked in 2003 to convert Sansa trees to Honeycrisp. “One tree was discovered that colored early and to a greater extent,” according to the patent.
In 2006, scion wood was removed and grafted onto other Sansa trees, and this second generation has been continually observed since.
Willow Drive purchased exclusive rights to produce and market the apple, and began the processes of observing it and collecting budwood to begin the long process of increasing the amount available to make trees for commercial sales—providing it continues to show its merit. Some will be sold to growers in 2013.
The new cultivar was described as having “earlier color” that was “overall more intense” and also having “greatly enhanced storage characteristics.” It has been kept in common cold storage for six months with no deterioration in quality.
Willow Drive trademarked the name, Royal Red Honeycrisp. The patent name of the cultivar is LJ-1000 and the patent number 22,244.
In the patent description, the time of ripening was given as the same as Honeycrisp, about September 16 in central Washington, but it states that sugar levels, date for date, were “noticeably elevated.” On an equal-sugar measure, that would make Royal Red Honeycrisp about five days earlier.