Apple and apricot variety breeder John McLaren, of
Bannockburn, spotted this painting of a Sonya apple by
Canadian artist Daniele Lemieux on the internet, and had to
have it as he developed the variety and named it after his
daughter. Photo by Yvonne O'Hara.
When scientist and apple cultivar breeder John McLaren
and wife Gillian, of Bannockburn, saw a painting of a Sonya
apple by Canadian artist Daniele Lemieux recently they just had
to buy it.
After all, he had bred that variety from Delicious and Gala,
and named it after his daughter.
Mr McLaren was a technical officer with the DSIR in
Earnscleugh and later with HortResearch (now Plant and Food
Research) from the 1960s to the 1980s, before branching out
on his own to develop apple crosses and apricot crosses on
his Alexandra property.
''It was there we developed the Sonya apple and named it
after my daughter,'' Mr McLaren said.
''The Americans took to it in a big way as they liked the
combination and its taste.''
His company, the Nevis Fruit Co Ltd, receives royalties for
the variety and only company-designated nurseries are allowed
to propagate it. The Nevis Fruit Co is an international
company with directors from New Zealand, France and the
The company has developed about 50 different apple crosses,
which are evaluated until the final selections are made,
based on their commercial viability and appeal, particularly
for the Asian market.
The development and evaluation of a variety takes between 10
and 15 years and the different crosses are considered for
their cropping ability, tree shape, storage qualities,
colour, texture, flavour, pest and disease tolerance, and
whether it is necessary to spray them, and if so how often.
He is also working with Waimea Nurseries in Nelson to further
evaluate the crosses.
''We are down to about 10 varieties.''
He also worked on breeding new varieties of apricots in the
1970s, and was involved with the Sundrop/Moorpark cross to
get the Clutha series (Clutha Gold, Clutha Sun, Clutha Early
and Clutha Late).
About six or seven good apricot crosses are also now being
evaluated and about 10,000 trees of the Nevis Fruit Co's
Nevis late apricot varieties are being grown in Central Otago
''We have got some that look fantastic, with red and orange
flesh, and are nice to eat.
''We are also targeting the Asian market as they like whiter,
He remembers using a paintbrush to collect the pollen in his
''We were like really big bees.''
Although he gave up the cross development work four years
ago, he was still interested in the outcomes and said he
would need to live for 300-400 years to see the full results
of his work.
''It is like an addiction.''
Once the evaluations were complete he hoped to see releases
of the selected varieties within the next three years, he
''However, the real success story is the Sonya apple with a
further two red sports to be commercially test-planted this
season,'' he said.