This is a juicy image: miles and miles of apple trees. Orion Magazine published a great story on the origins of the world’s apple varieties in the Kazakh mountains. Some passionate local conservationists are attempting to catalog and save the trees from homogenized varieties and urban development. Preserving these ancient plant varieties is an important part of food security.
North America may have once harbored a dazzling array of absolutely delicious apples, but the magnitude of Kazakhstan’s current apple diversity dwarfs anything that this continent has ever known, since apples have been evolving in Central Asia for upwards of 4.5 million years. Apples, however, do not comprise all of Kazakhstan’s bounty. Dzangaliev and Salova have estimated that within Kazakhstan’s flora of 6,000 species, at least 157 are either the direct precursors or close wild relatives of domesticated crops. Aimak and Tatiana believe that 90 percent of all cultivated fruits of the world’s temperate zones were historically found in Kazakhstan’s forests, confirming the country’s status—first suggested by Vavilov—as a center of origin for many of the planet’s major fruit tree crops.