Apples and Genetic Diversity

Ever since reading Michael Pollans’s wonderful The Botany of Desire I have been fascinated by Kazakhstan’s wild apple groves, the “Eden of Apples”. There might have been, at least until recently, more genetic diversity in a Kazakh grove than in all of North America.

Such groves are threatened by the suburban sprawl around Almaty. Following Pollan’s references at the request of a friend, I found an American source for Kazakh seed. The director, Phil Forsline, is quoted by Pollan as saying: “I’ll send seeds to anybody who asks, just so long as they promise to plant them, tend to the trees, and then report back someday”. Pollan adds: “The wild apples had found their Johnny Appleseed.”

You can also see a grove, and other good stuff here, at Virtual Almaty, though the (I think) ethnic Russian author thinks that Russians brought apples there. Not true! Though it was a Russian scientist named Nikolai Vavilov who discovered in 1929 that the Almaty area was “Apple Eden”. (He was later eliminated by Stalin for not following the Lysenkoist party line on genetics).

Genetic diversity and its potential loss is an important and interesting subject. I will have more…

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