Pullman, WA

Nonprofit rediscovers seven varieties of apples once thought lost to time

Melanie Henshaw

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An apple orchard.(Lucus Razvan/Unsplash)

(PULLMAN, Wash.) - A nonprofit group recently announced the rediscovery of seven species of apples thought to be extinct or lost to time.

The Lost Apple Project, co-founded by retired FBI agent David Benscoter and veteran E.J Brandt, is a group of amateur scientists dedicated to scouring old apple orchards in search of forgotten apple varieties. Benscoter began searching for the forgotten apples after his neighbor in Washington state asked for his help identifying specimens in their old orchard, thus creating the Lost Apple Project.

Aptly-named the Apple Detectives, the Lost Apple Project announced their rediscovery of seven apple species last week in conjunction with the Temperate Orchard Conservancy.

There are no maps naming where these forgotten apples may be. The Lost Apple Project relies on a combination of tips from people and old advertisements from nurseries, fairs and newspapers to determine which species grew in a particular area.

According to Benscoter, many of the trees are aging and dying, so they must move quickly to find as many trees as possible.

The seven rediscovered apple species are not endemic to the Northwest U.S., and were planted by white settlers as they forced their way west. There are potentially hundreds of varieties planted in the Pacific Northwest alone, including the common Gala and the recently rediscovered varieties, the Kay and Carlough apples.

The recent findings come as the biodiversity of apples and other crops has massively decreased in the past two centuries. There used to be over 17,000 domesticated apple varieties, but today the number of varieties has declined to just 4,500. The decline in apple biodiversity is similar to the decline in other crops, such as corn.

The decline can be attributed to a number of factors including habitat loss and agricultural techniques relying heavily on pollinators. The lack of crop diversity poses a global problem as more countries rely on a shrinking list of staple crops, which leaves the world more vulnerable to potential mass hunger should there be an interruption in crop production.

The nonprofit collects the apples in autumn to be sent for testing, and collaborates with the Temperate Orchard Conservancy to return in winter to collect branch cuttings and graft new trees.

To prevent the apple varieties from being lost again, the Temperate Orchard Conservancy and the Lost Apple Project offer the trees for sale to the public. The group also offers classes to collect branch cuttings and graft new trees.

In all, the Lost Apple Project has rediscovered 29 varieties of apples thought to be extinct.

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Multimedia journalist passionate about covering issues regarding the environment and Indigenous rights, and food. Always searching for the next great meal.

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