Rare seedlings offered to celebrate Illinois bicentennial

Published: Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 5:30 a.m. CDT

The bicentennial of Illinois statehood is Dec. 3, 2018. The Illinois State Historical Society is commemorating this birthday by offering a rare variety of tree – an apple tree with historic roots – to the counties of the state.

Schoolchildren (and those of us who were once schoolchildren) have learned the story of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. Chapman traveled throughout the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio planting apple nurseries, using seeds from the cider mill near his Pennsylvania home.

The Algeo family farm in Nova, Ohio, was one of his wayside stops and the tree planted there is the last known surviving tree planted by Chapman. Some claim it is a Rambo apple, but its traits are more those of an Albemarle Pippin, ripening in September and used for applesauce and baking.

Guy Sternberg, director of Starhill Forest Arboretum, assisted in the choice of this tree for the ISHS project, after meeting Pat Algeo of Petersburg, a descendant of the Ohio farm family. Several years ago, the Famous and Historic Trees Program offered by American Forests provided these “Johnny Appleseed” trees to every state visited by Chapman in the early 19th century. The official Illinois tree was planted at Starhill Forest Arboretum in Petersburg with another tree being planted at Lincoln Memorial Garden.

Fresh scionwood from the original tree has been used to propagate trees for every one of the 102 Illinois counties in 2018. The trees will be sold by the ISHS and may be purchased for $50 each (plus shipping). The society asks that those individuals or groups purchasing the Johnny Appleseed trees plan to locate the trees on public land so that visitors to their county may enjoy the tree. Recommended sites would include courthouse grounds, public parks or cemeteries, museum grounds, libraries and historic garden sites. Each tree will be accompanied by a letter of authentication from the society and the arboretum.

Trees will be shipped to the ISHS office in October and will be available at that time. Call 217-525-2781, ext. 4, to reserve a tree.