Saving the First Apple




“- comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” — Song of Solomon 2:5.

Apples are so much more reliable, but beware; if we don’t start protecting the ancient apple forests of Kazakhstan, love might be all we’ve got left. And what’s better? A few text messages or a sweet, crisp, thin-skinned McCoun? Puleeeeze.

There is nothing American about the apple. The proverbial symbol of our fallen selves traveled to us with turmeric and cinnamon via the Silk Road from Central Asia, specifically Kazakhstan, where apples, plum, cherry, pears, apricots, and walnuts all grow wild, ancient forests of them.

Nowhere else in the world do apples grow in forests, and for that reason the famous plant scientist Nikolay Vavilov in 1927 declared Kazakhstan the apple’s most likely hometown. If there ever was a first apple that was too lovely to resist, it came from a tree in Kazakhstan, where genetic diversity was helped along by gigantic mountain ranges that fragmented and isolated the land. Pollen, and therefore the species, didn’t get all mixed up with any other; pure wild apples, pure species. All the domestic apples cultivated today trace back to these forests, which – here’s the tragic part – are disappearing.

Henry David Thoreau, who was a great admirer of wild apples, wrote about their decline in this country in the late 19th century, mourning over his memories of wild apples piling up two feet deep against a stone wall at the bottom of a field. He says wild apples “must be eaten…when your system is all aglow with exercise, when the frosty weather nips your fingers, the wind rattles the bare boughs or rustles the few remaining leaves, and the jay is heard screaming. What is sour in the house a bracing walk makes sweet. Some of these apples might be labeled, ‘To be eaten in the wind.’”

In the last four hundred years, there were 16,000 varieties of apples identified as growing in North America, all having traveled here from you know where. In 1904, North America was down to 7,098. Now? There are about 300 varieties left in cultivation.

But, hey, no worries, because supposedly all those lost species in this country have continued thriving, unblemished by civilization, in that apple-gene warehouse, the forests of Kazakhstan. If there’s a blight pandemic that wipes out the apples of North America, can’t we go apple-seed shopping on the hillsides of Alma-Ata? Not so much anymore. Scientists have drawn up a “Red List” of forty-four species of Central Asian fruit trees that could soon disappear, including ‘Malus sieversii 3,’ the species most of our grocery store apples call “Mom.”

Almost 90 percent of the fruit and nut forests of Central Asia have been destroyed in the last fifty years, by development, excess logging, fires, and war. (In world war II, Russian soldiers burned acres of apple forests.)

But there is hope; The Global Trees Campaign, a partnership between Fauna & Flora International, Botanic Gardens Conservation International and many other organizations around the world, aims to save threatened tree species through provision of information, conservation action and support for sustainable use. Go to The Global Tree campaign. In fact, become their fan on Facebook, and check out their cool “Tree of the Week” images. Better yet, become of fan of apples, of trees, of Kazakhstan!

Guess what else Henry David Thoreau says? “It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple-tree is connected with that of man.”

Photo by Pink Scarf.

Eat Boutique was an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista – an author, business guide and alignment seeker. After hosting retail markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie now supports entrepreneurs as they create values-based businesses through We Are Magic StudioFollow Maggie Battista on Instagram.