Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Preserving old fruit tree varieties

Over the past decades, and old retired man with no formal botanical education has carried out an extremely important biological and historical service to our civilization. Creighton Lee Calhoun Jr. has searched out and preserved 400 different varieties of apple trees protecting them from extinction.  Why is this important you may ask?  Well, about 100 years ago there were 18,000 different varieties of apples and today there are only 3,000 remaining.  The rest are either extinct or are lost in some old orchard or farm somewhere.  There remains many lost varieties of apples throughout much of the word that need someone to find and preserve them or they will face extinction in the near future.  This is an activity that anyone can do with a vehicle, some time to search the country side, and some plant grafting skills.  The chances of someone finding a "new" or lost variety of apple is pretty good.  Apples have been grown through out the world and in all 50 states of the US.  These historical apples are often deeply rooted in family and local history.  In my personal experience I have happened across a many old "wild" apple trees on hiking excursions both in the midwest and southwest.  Reading this article makes me wonder, were some of these apple trees I came across old lost varieties?

Here is the NY Times article: He Keeps Ancient Apples Fresh and Crisp

The apple has a long, rich, and important place in the history of our civilization.  Michael Pollen has documented this history in his book and PBS documentary "The Botany of Desire".  These resources present the history of the apple, and several other plants, in an extremely interesting and accessible way.  With the knowledge of the apple in world history contained in "Botany of Desire", finding and preserving old apple varieties suddenly becomes an important part of preserving world history. I am sure the same can be done for peaches, pears, plums and so on.

Check it out at this website:  www.pbs.org/thebotanyofdesire/ 

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