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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Oct. 5, 2007

Chieftain apples

The Chieftain apple is a cross between the tart Jonathan and the sweet Red Delicious varieties. It was developed by ISU horticulturist Spencer Beach in 1917 and introduced commercially in 1968. Photo by Bob Elbert.

A Sesquicentennial look back

Apples from the Beach

by Erin Rosacker

Did you ever wonder why there was a street in Ames named Beach Avenue? It has nothing to do with sand and surf. It has everything to do with horticulture.

Spencer Ambrose Beach, an 1887 Iowa State College graduate, returned to his alma mater in 1905 as head of the horticulture and forestry department. He added vice dean of agriculture duties in 1907, serving in both roles until his sudden death in 1922 at age 62.

Considered one of the best-known horticulturists of his time, Beach developed at least 14 varieties of apples. He began his scientific work at the New York Ag Experiment Station in Geneva, where he spent 17 years.

It was his interest in breeding cold-hardy fruit that brought him back to Iowa, where his collection grew to an estimated 3,000 bearing trees and 20,000 to 30,000 seedlings. Shortly after his death, ISC's general faculty passed a resolution, stating, "his labor and leadership has given Iowa and the world an outstanding collection of apple breeding material."

One of the cross-bred varieties he developed in Ames remains popular today. According to the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association, the Chieftain apple -- a cross between the Jonathan and Red Delicious -- is "preferred by consumers over both its parents."

Iowa State's Horticulture Station, north on Highway 69 and near Gilbert, added 125 Chieftain trees to its 40-year-old grove last spring. The apples, good to eat off the tree or in recipes, are served on campus and sold in the Horticulture Club's annual apple sales.

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Sesqui series

Inside is celebrating the sesquicentennial with a yearlong series of photos and articles that look back at Iowa State traditions, people and places.