UI to plant historic Johnny Appleseed tree graft in campus orchard
Thursday, September 26, 2013

Johnny Appleseed isn’t just a symbolic folk hero. He was a real pioneer apple farmer named John Chapman whose dream was to produce so many apples no one would ever go hungry.

Andy Dahl, University of Iowa arborist, isn’t really a folk hero—yet, although many on campus have come to admire his work in a similar way. Dahl can often be spotted planting trees on the Pentacrest alongside a group of students, pruning trees near campus walkways, or carefully tending to saplings.

Andy Dahl
Andy Dahl is part of the Landscape Services tree crew that cares for the urban forest on the UI campus. File photo by Tom Jorgensen

Dahl, an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)-certified arborist and municipal specialist, knows just about everything there is to know about the nearly 8,000 trees he helps manage for the UI.

He also has a keen interest in tree history. So when he had the opportunity to acquire two trees grafted from the last living apple tree planted by Johnny Appleseed, Dahl didn’t hesitate. At 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 27, Dahl plans to transplant one of the historic trees in the UI’s newly established orchard in commemoration of Appleseed’s birthday today, Thursday, Sept. 26. The other tree will be reserved for his daughter’s kindergarten class.

“This tree is a piece off the last known living link to an American icon. Everyone has heard of Johnny Appleseed and to receive a graft off a tree planted by his own hand is pretty special. The University of Iowa will be one of a few institutions to have one of these trees,” says Dahl.

Dahl acquired the grafts from Raintree Nursery in Washington State by means of Scott Skogerboe, a nurseryman living in Fort Collins, Colo., who spent more than a year tracking down the rare and historic tree. Dahl contacted Skogerboe after reading an article about his long, and at times circuitous, search for the remnants of the historic tree.

Last spring, Dahl, along with volunteers from the UI Student Garden and local community, planted nearly 40 fruit trees in the UI orchard located near the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex off of Mormon Trek Blvd. The learning orchard was made possible by a $1,500 grant from the Iowa DNR Trees for Kids, Trees for Teens Program and will act as an outdoor classroom.

The trees, including apple, pear, peach, and cherry, will begin to bear fruit in about five years, and then will be available to students in the UI residence dining halls. The orchard also includes tree species such as pawpaw, persimmon, pecan, and chestnut.

sketch of Johnny Appleseed
Johnny Appleseed became a legend due to the symbolic importance he attributed to apples, and for his leadership in conservation.©Wikimedia Commons/PD-US.

Dahl says that while it is exciting to have the historic Appleseed tree as part of the orchard, he doesn’t know how the tree’s fruit will taste, “Most of these cider variety apples would pucker your mouth. I’m sure it will depend on everyone’s individual taste buds.”

Dahl is part of the UI Facilities Management Landscape Services tree care team that is supervised by Shawn Fitzpatrick, ISA certified arborist, and includes Mike Rhinehart, UI arborist and ISA certified arborist; Alan Allgood, UI tree trimmer and ISA certified arborist; and Tom Moore, UI tree trimmer and ISA certified arborist. The group maintains and protects the campus tree inventory and plants more than 300 trees each year. They have also helped the UI earn “Tree Campus USA” status the past four years.

UI Landscape Services maintains a campus with over 150 years of history and memories for faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

For more information on the UI orchard, visit here.