For most people, grafting is a lost art. At one time, anyone who wanted to produce a new breed of tree would simply graft two trees together. However, as horticulturists experimented with grafting at ever-increasing rates, it became easier for people to buy plants instead of grafting their own.
What is Grafting
Grafting, according to Dr. T. Ombrello at Union County College in Cranford, New Jersey, is "the art and science of connecting two pieces of living plant tissue together to grow as one composite plant." In layman's terms, grafting is taking two different plants, joining them together, and creating one new type of plant. Grafting is most often used to create new species of plants, like taking an orange tree and a lemon tree and grafting them together to create a plant that will grow both lemons and oranges.
When Did Grafting Begin?
The exact dates are not known, but researchers have found that natural grafting took place thousands of years ago. Nomads took the limbs from different types of plants and placed them in the ground as a frame for their homes and, due to the ease of some trees to grow from cuttings, the different types of trees would graft themselves to one another and form a new type of tree.
The earliest records that possibly pertain to grafting come from the Bible. Although the word grafting is not specifically used in the Bible, there are several references that indicate grafting was practiced. One such reference is in Jeremiah 2:21, which tells of a "true seed" being planted but growing into a "wild, alien vine." Grafting is also mentioned in the Talmudic tractate Kilayim of the Mishna, where it is mentioned that it is "unlawful to graft tree on tree."
Earliest Documented Sources on Grafting
According to the horticultural department at Purdue University, the Greeks and Romans practiced the art of grafting as early as the 5th century B.C. Grafting appeared to be commonplace and was widely used on various types of trees and grapevines as a form of propagation. By the 2nd century B.C., citrus trees, such as lemon and citron, were being grafted together. Various pear trees were also grafted together during this time period.
Early Grafting in Greece
The earliest written account of grafting comes from a treatise written by followers of Hippocrates around 424 B.C. In this treatise, grafting is described in such detail that a common person of that time period would have understood what grafting is all about. Theophrastus, who is considered the father of botany, also describes grafting and the technique of wrapping the grafted junction with lime bark, mud and hair.
Grafting in the Modern Era
Grafting has not changed much over the centuries. Advances in propagation technology have created easier methods of grafting, such as root hormones, which decrease the amount of time needed for a graft to take root. However, outside of the laboratory, the old-fashioned method of using fertilizer or manure, mixed with mud and wrapped around the graft section (usually with aluminum foil), is coming back into use.