Pioneers Ate These Apples. They Were Just Rediscovered

2 retirees scour abandoned orchards in the Northwest, find 10 'extinct' varieties
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 16, 2020 1:44 PM CDT
Apple Hunters Find 10 'Extinct' Varieties
In this 2019 photo, amateur botanist David Benscoter of the Lost Apple Project is on the hunt at a remote homestead near Pullman, Wash.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Two retirees who scour the remote ravines and windswept plains of the Pacific Northwest for long-forgotten orchards have rediscovered 10 apple varieties that were believed to be extinct—the largest number ever unearthed in a single season by the nonprofit Lost Apple Project, per the AP. Botanists at the Temperate Orchard Conservancy in Oregon analyzed the apples and provided the tally. The apples identified as previously “lost” were among hundreds collected in October and November from 140-year-old orchards tucked into small canyons or hidden in forests that have since grown up around them in rural Idaho and Washington state. "It was just one heck of a season," says EJ Brandt, who hunts for the apples along with fellow amateur botanist David Benscoter. "If we had found one apple or two apples a year in the past, we thought were were doing good."

Each fall, Brandt and Benscoter log hundreds of miles searching for ancient—and often dying—apple trees across the Pacific Northwest. They collect hundreds of apples using old maps, county fair records, newspaper clippings, and nursery sales ledgers. By matching names from those records with property maps, they can pinpoint where an orchard might have been—and they often find a few specimens still growing there. One apple, the Gold Ridge, was particularly hard to identify because the experts couldn't find any illustrations or descriptions of it anywhere. Finally, botanist Joanie Cooper went page by page through a reference book written by a botanist who died in 1912 until she found it. “It’s the luck of the draw,” said Shaun Shepherd, another Temperate Orchard Conservancy botanist. “And we learn more as we go along."

(Read more apple stories.)

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