Historic North American apple (Malus domestica) orchards that thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with cultivar compositions unlike today’s orchards, are vanishing. There are several reasons for this loss: tree aging, cost of tree maintenance, and urbanization. Many groups have collected local knowledge regarding the history and horticulture of apples using both phenotypic and genotypic identification methods. Some of these groups have joined with scientists to form the collaborative “Historic Fruit Tree Working Group of North America” to facilitate the conservation of heirloom apple cultivars in North America through documentation, identification, collaboration, and education. Read full journal article at Plants, People, Planet…
By Amy Dunbar-Wallis, Gayle M. Volk, Alexandra M. Johnson, Adalyn Schuenemeyer, John Bunker, David Castro, Todd Little-Siebold, Lydia Pendergast, Richard Uhlmann, Laura Sieger, David Benscoter, Cameron P. Peace | July 31, 2022
In an interview with KSUT, Jude Schuenemeyer talks about why the Colorado Orange apple is special. He also gives us a few tasting notes. And he delves into the work to reintroduce the apple to consumers. He’s already shared the Colorado Orange with other growers, so they can propagate it and eventually return the storied fruit to kitchens and pantries. Listen to the interview at KSUT’s Open Range News…
Try describing the look and taste of a Honeycrisp apple. Even when holding one in your hand, this task isn’t so easy. It’s red, and is, uh, crisp. But many of the thousands of known apple varieties have similar appearances and flavors. Nowadays, genetic testing can allow growers to confirm specific cultivars (in much the same we can learn that a wine grape variety has been mislabeled for decades), but attempting to rediscover “lost” apple varieties that are only preserved through historical records is more akin to detective work… and in the end, you simply hope you got the right suspect.
After two decades of sleuthing, Addie and Jude Schuenemeyer—founders of the Colorado-based Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project—are officially saying “case closed” on one of their apple hunts. Addie says they are now “98 percent sure, give or take 3 percent” that they’ve rediscovered a local variety once thought to have disappeared: the Colorado Orange apple. Read full article in Food & Wine…
The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project compared the fruit of a tree found near Cañon City to botanical illustrations and wax castings of award-winning apples to identify the lost treasure. Read the full article in The Colorado Sun. DEC 18, 2019 5:07AM MST
Using DNA testing in southwest Colorado, the Montezuma Orchard Restoration project welcomes back apple varieties like Winter Banana, Blue Pearmain, Ben Davis and Esopus Spitzenburg — and businesses are sprouting around them.
MCELMO CANYON — The apple orchard on Jude and Addie Schuenemeyer’s farm in a squiggle of a canyon in far southwest Colorado is a wild place. Turkeys gobble around on the hunt for bugs in native grasses that grow nearly as high as the gnarly limbs of the apple trees. Those trees are set hither and thither instead of lining up in typical tidy orchard rows. They bear apples that few fruit fans have likely heard of: Winter Banana, Blue Pearmain, Ben Davis and Esopus Spitzenburg…read the full article in The Colorado Sun.
PUBLISHED ON NOV 28, 2019 5:05AM MST
The historic Gold Medal Orchard, located in McElmo Canyon where it joins Trail Canyon, represents one of hundreds of remnant historic orchards located in Montezuma County and across Colorado. First planted in 1890 by James Giles, the orchard soon earned its name by winning a gold medal for the quality of its apples and peaches at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Remaining on-site are several old apple, pear, and quince trees, portions of the historic orchard fence; and under the grand cottonwoods are two historic homes with sheds and a privy.
When you visit, close your eyes and imagine what you would have seen while standing here at the turn of the 20th century. Fruit trees spread across the canyon floor, pink, white, and red blossoms snowing down in the spring, limbs heavy with crops throughout the summer and fall. Apples, peaches, apricots, pears, cherries, and plums ripening in the warm sun and cool evenings in the perfect location to grow beautiful and flavorful fruit.
Time passed, the trees grew into their grandeur, and then slowly faded into the landscape. Over 100 years later, only a few historic trees remain, hardy remnants of the orchard’s former glory. Heritage fruit varieties were lost, and the story of the Gold Medal Orchard and its prize-winning fruits was nearly forgotten.
Today, the story of the Gold Medal Orchard is remembered by the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP) through its work to preserve Colorado’s fruit-growing heritage. In 2015, the orchard was listed as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places by Colorado Preservation, Inc. (CPI). MORP works with the Kenyon family to have it become a Saved Site. In 2019, this project was awarded an Endangered Places Progress Award by CPI at the Dana Crawford & State Honor Awards.
When you are at the orchard, open your eyes wide and take a good look at the roughly 400 fruit trees growing before you. They represent rare fruit cultivars (primarily apples) that were grafted by MORP from this and other historic Colorado orchards. Envision these young trees of old genetics reaching their prime, and then still growing another hundred years from now. Gifts of our early fruit growers passed down by MORP for future generations to taste and preserve.
34 unknown cultivar matches to other samples – likely named cultivars not in ARS dataset
103 unique unknown cultivars – some are likely seedlings. However, MORP took care to collect from grafted – not seedling trees – so many of these unique unknowns are also likely named historic cultivars not listed in the ARS dataset
195 cultivars in total out of 489 MORP samples
Testing made possible by a 2015 Colorado USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant award to MORP
Historic Apple Cultivar Identification Using DNA Fingerprinting Techniques by Gayle Volk, USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Genetic Resource Preservation (article from MORP 2016 newsletter)
Apple cultivars are traditionally vegetatively propagated by grafting; many apple cultivars have been sold and exchanged over the centuries. During the American homestead era, apple trees were planted on properties as part of the process of cultivating the land. Cultivars purchased as grafted trees from nurseries often had desirable traits, such as large, higher quality fruit that could be eaten fresh, stored for extended lengths of time, or used for cider production. Trees planted from seeds often did not exhibit desirable traits for fresh consumption, and were instead used primarily for cider. Many historic apple cultivars remain available today as grafted trees in national and private collections. In fact, DNA genetic fingerprinting techniques have been used to develop a database of fingerprints of materials in the USDA collection for use in unknown cultivar identification.
An informal collaboration among the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project, historic orchards of Wyoming (both through USDA Specialty Crop Research Grants), Yosemite and Redwood National Parks, as well as El Dorado National Forest is underway to identify locally important historic apple cultivars. This effort seeks to use known historic cultivars in the USDA- ARS National Plant Germplasm System Apple Collection—as well as selected varieties in collections at Washington State University and the Temperate Orchard Conservancy (Oregon)—as standards to determine the identities of unknown apples.
Leaf tissue from key historic apple trees was sent to the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colorado. A graduate student from the University of Wyoming has been extracting DNA from these leaf samples and will be preparing the extracts for fingerprinting analyses. Molecular markers, termed “microsatellites”, will be used to compare the genetic identities of the unknown (or tentatively named) cultivars to those in known collections. We hope to be able to identify many of the grafted materials that were previously unknown. This method of genetic testing will only yield cultivar names for grafted varieties; therefore, historic trees that originated from seedling sources will likely remain unidentified.
Publications that relate to this work are: One is a publication by Kanin Routson, Ann Reilley, Adam Henk and Gayle Volk titled “Identification of Historic Apple Trees in the Southwestern United States and Implications for Conservation” (HortScience 2009. 44:589-594) and another was published by Gayle Volk and Adam Henk “Historic American Apple Cultivars: Identication and Availability” (J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 2016. 141:292-301).