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History of Grafting

Posted 9/24/2014 12:30pm by Judy Lessler.

For the Chronicles of Okra, I have been reading about the history of agriculture and have found some translations of ancient writings--Varro, Pliny and so on. This week I found a very interesting contemporary article on the history of grafting. Here are some cool things I found out. The article is A History of Grafting, by Ken Mudge, Jules Janick, Steven Scofield, and Eliezner Goldschmidt. I found it with a Google search and was able to download the PDF.  

Gathering of grains and pulses began about 10 to 12 thousand BC. Pulses are legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and peas. Soon after, these were domesticated. I am not sure when the Neolithic Era, which is defined as settled agricultural communities, actually is considered to have started. The Neolithic transition includes the development of towns and settled communities, clearing of land, and other characteristics of agricultural communities. Apparently there is no start date, and the transition occurred at different times all over the world. However, food collected from trees fruits and nuts were also an important part of the diet of these more settled communities.  

Growing new trees from the seeds of existing trees was problematic in that they did not breed true. Thus the first orchards were confined to fig, olive, pomegranate, grape, and date palms which can be propagated from cuttings or division of root stock. This type of orchard production was wide spread by the 4000 to 3000 BC. It was not until about 1000 BC that apple, pear, and plum orchards were wide spread. By then people had discovered grafting. This greatly facilitated the spread of fruit orchards and the improvement of varieties.  

Grafting involves cutting a scion from the desired tree, making a matching cut on the rootstock, and binding them together by carefully lining up the vascular cambium layers of the two trees. No one knows how ancient people discovered this. Whoever did was the creative genius of his or her time and has had a larger impact on the world than either Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, or modern innovative heroes. I suspect that it was discovered in many places by many people.  

When we made our grafts for the coming pear orchard, we wrapped them with masking tape and covered the tape with a tar that kept water out and held moisture in. The ancients used a mixture of lime, bark, mud, and hair to seal the graft. They were aware of the need to keep moisture in, and not having any tape or tar, they sometimes suspended a pot of water over the graft and let water drip on the graft to keep if from drying out.  

The ancients did not know about genetics, and some reasoned that the roots of a plant determined the nature of the fruit and growth because of the liquid that flowed from the roots up into the tree. This posed a serious problem for explaining why, for example, a red rose grafted on a white rose only produced red roses. No hybrid mixing was observed. One theory was that the scion sent down its own roots through the branches and trunk of the rootstock and was, thereby, able to maintain its innate characteristics.  

So cool.

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