13 Nov, 2019

What is grafting?

By Ani Melkonyan

In the world of trees, one topic that never ceases to amaze is grafting. Grafting is essentially a method of cloning trees! Though it may sound like science fiction, grafting is very much a reality and a necessary technique used in tree nurseries and orchards around the world.

Let’s break it down. One plant is selected for its roots, called the rootstock or understock. A second plant is selected for its stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits, called the scion or cutting. The scion carries the desired genes to be duplicated. Grafting is when a scion is inserted into a small cut in the rootstock and tied with special grafting tape. The scion grows and becomes the upper part of the plant. The rootstock remains in the lower portion, serving as the root system and part of the trunk.

“The result is a new tree, which is identical to its original source. Grafting allows us to produce whatever variety of fruit tree that we want. That is the main reason why it’s so important,” explains ATP Nursery Assistant Sevak Movsisyan.

“There’s a general misunderstanding that you can grow whatever fruit you want from the fruit’s seed. The truth is, the seed will produce the same kind of tree, but its fruit and vegetative characteristics and quality will not be the same as the parent plant. Just as with humans – offspring are not exact copies of their parents,” says Movsisyan.

Fruit from non-grafted trees is lower in quality, less attractive, usually smaller in size, and either too bitter or too sweet to be eaten. Grafted fruit trees are generally stronger. Besides quality control, grafting also shortens the amount of time it takes for a tree to bloom and give fruit. It may take a non-grafted apple tree 10 years, while a grafted apple tree could bear fruit in just four.

Grafting is no walk in the park. It requires precision, care, and practice. There are different types of cuts that are made on the rootstock with razor-sharp knives. It’s important to know that the trees that are joined must be of the same species. For instance, cherries and plums can be grafted together because they both come from the Prunus family. Cherries and oranges (citrus family) cannot.

Not much is known about the discovery of grafting. It most likely happened when people observed trees self-graft. This is a common phenomenon in nature, when, with the help of wind or close proximity, two branches with injured barks cross and connect.

Some of the oldest evidence of grafting traces back to China in 2000 BC. Hints of grafting are also found in passages of the Old Testament. But it wasn’t until about 1000 BC that apple, pear, and plum orchards became widespread. What is known is that the ancients used a mixture lime, bark, mud, and hair to seal the graft.

As for Armenia Tree Project, 274,000 fruit and 34,600 nut trees have been provided to communities since 1994. All have been grafted at ATP’s nurseries. Thanks to grafting, we are continuously able to produce the superior, mouth-watering fruits that our ancestors grew and savored on this land before us.