Accessibility links

Breaking News

Fruit Detectives Search For Rare Kinds of Apples


In this Oct. 28, 2019, photo, amateur botanist David Benscoter, of The Lost Apple Project, stands near a tree in the Steptoe Butte area near Colfax, Washington.
Fruit Detectives Search For Rare Kinds of Apples
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:37 0:00


An apple tree stands alone near the top of a hill. It produces the Arkansas Beauty, a fruit long believed to have disappeared from existence. Three years ago, plant experts E.J. Brandt and David Benscoter rediscovered it.

The men have found 13 long-lost apple varieties in an area once known as Oregon Territory in the northwestern United States.

Brandt and Benscoter, both retirees, lead a nonprofit called Lost Apple Project. They travel hundreds of kilometers in trucks and on foot to find orchards planted by settlers more than a century ago.

In this Oct. 28, 2019, photo, amateur botanist David Benscoter, of The Lost Apple Project, walks above an orchard in the Steptoe Butte area near Colfax, Wash. Benscoter and fellow botanist E.J. Brandt have rediscovered at least 13 long-lost apple varieties over the past several years in homestead orchards, remote canyons and windswept fields in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
In this Oct. 28, 2019, photo, amateur botanist David Benscoter, of The Lost Apple Project, walks above an orchard in the Steptoe Butte area near Colfax, Wash. Benscoter and fellow botanist E.J. Brandt have rediscovered at least 13 long-lost apple varieties over the past several years in homestead orchards, remote canyons and windswept fields in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The two are racing against time to keep the fruit from disappearing. The apple trees are old, and many are dying. Others are being ripped out for more wheat fields or housing developments.

“To me, this area is a goldmine,” said Brandt, who has found two historical varieties in the state of Idaho. “I don’t want it lost in time. I want to give back to the people so that they can enjoy what our forefathers did.”

History

North America once had 17,000 named varieties of domesticated apples, but only about 4,000 remain. The Lost Apple Project believes settlers planted a few hundred varieties in their part of the Pacific Northwest alone.

The Homestead Act of 1862 gave 65 hectares to families who would improve the land and pay a small fee. These people planted orchards with enough variety to get them through the long winter. They planted apples that ripen from early spring until the first freeze.

Then, as now, people did not raise apples from seeds. People took cuttings taken from existing trees and then joined them with roots. The new trees do not have the genetic material that often makes “wild” apples unfit as food.

Genetic Diversity

Joanie Cooper is a plant scientist at the Temperate Orchard Conservancy. She has helped identify many of the lost varieties found in northern Idaho and eastern Washington. The trees have value beyond their historic importance, she notes.

In this Oct. 30, 2019, photo, Joanie Cooper, of the Temperate Orchard Conservancy, examines a rare apple in her lab in Molalla, Oregon. Cooper and her colleagues have helped identify many of the 13 "lost" apple varieties that have been rediscovered in recent years by the Lost Apple Project in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
In this Oct. 30, 2019, photo, Joanie Cooper, of the Temperate Orchard Conservancy, examines a rare apple in her lab in Molalla, Oregon. Cooper and her colleagues have helped identify many of the 13 "lost" apple varieties that have been rediscovered in recent years by the Lost Apple Project in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

The trees could help genetic diversity among modern-day apple crops as climate change and disease take an increasing toll.

Cooper said, “You have to have varieties that can last, that can grow, produce fruit, survive the heat and maybe survive the cold winter, depending on where you are. I think that’s critical.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Gillian Flaccus reported this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

__________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

variety – n. a particular kind of person or thing

orchard – n. a planting of fruit trees, nut trees, or sugar maples

forefather – n. a person from an earlier time who helped to create or start something modern or important

domesticated – adj. from the verb

domesticate - v. to grow (a plant) for human use ; to breed or train (an animal) to need and accept the care of human beings : to tame (an animal)

ripen – v. to become ripe and ready to eat

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

See comments (3)

XS
SM
MD
LG