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David Sparks Ph.d Apple Detectives
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Line on Agriculture
Date: December 25, 2018

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Researchers at Washington State University have teamed with an amateur apple detective to bring fruit varieties thought extinct back to life. Scientists with the WSU Department of Horticulture joined David Benscoter to take cuttings at an abandoned orchard that has survived for 125 years on the slopes of Steptoe Butte, a lone 3,600-foot mountain jutting above the rolling farmland of the Palouse.


The team is grafting and growing the cuttings, preserving valuable traits so that some day consumers will bite into long-lost varieties once again.


Amit Dhingra, WSU associate professor of horticulture “The Palouse used to be the cradle for orchards.” When irrigation arrived in the Columbia basin to the southwest, the Palouse industry was decimated. But the trees survived. A century later, people are exploring abandoned orchards and reviving lost apple types nationwide. WSU Department of Horticulture’s Nathan Tarlyn gives an historical perspective: “In Whitman County apples were grown 120 years ago and this was the primary place that apples were grown in the state of Washington.”


“Our food habits are changing,” said Dhingra. “Consumers are demanding more variety. These apples are a way to get variety and reclaim our heritage.”

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