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Research Project: Innovations that Improve the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Managing and Preserving Ex Situ Plant Germplasm Collections

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Title: Historic American apple cultivars: Identification and availability

Author
item Volk, Gayle
item Henk, Adam

Submitted to: Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/25/2016
Publication Date: 5/25/2016
Citation: Volk, G.M., Henk, A.D. 2016. Historic American apple cultivars: Identification and availability. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science. 141(3):292-301.

Interpretive Summary: Apples are a significant part of American culture. Native Americans used wild species that are native to the U.S., and colonists brought European and Asian apple cultivars with them when they settled. The seeds produced by these original cultivars were planted throughout lands which would become the United States. Historic books, publications, and nursery catalogs document the U.S. historical apple cultivars. These records were surveyed to identify the cultivars that were propagated and grown in the United States prior to 1908. Synonyms, introduction dates, and original source country information for 891 historic apple cultivars were recorded. The early apple cultivars were brought to the U.S. from the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany, and other European countries. However, most of the historic American cultivars originated as seedlings planted in the U.S. We classified historic apple cultivars based on their availability over time and popularity in nursery catalogs. It was found that 135 of the 150 category 1 cultivars, 66 of the 101 category 2 cultivars, 28 of the 51 category 3 cultivars, and 130 of the 589 category 4 cultivars were available (based on cultivar name) in 2015 in U.S. and U.K. national collections and within selected commercial and private collections in the U.S. Overall, 90% of the category 1 historic apple cultivars remain available as a result of conservation efforts in genebanks, private collections, and nurseries. This is in contrast to a quote in National Geographic in July 2011 stating “Of the 7,000 apple varieties that were grown in the 1800s, fewer than a hundred remain”. Cultivars that are not currently protected within genebanks but considered high priority are identified and we suggest that they be included in genebanks in the future.

Technical Abstract: Apples have been important throughout the centuries in North America. Historic books, publications, and nursery catalogs were surveyed to identify apple cultivars that were propagated and grown in the United States prior to 1908. We collected synonym, introduction date, and original source country information for 891 historic apple cultivars. Early apple cultivars were brought to the U.S. from the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany, and other European countries. However, most of the historic American cultivars originated as seedlings planted in the U.S. Historic apple cultivars were classified based on their availability over time and popularity in nursery catalogs (with category 1 materials having the greatest popularity and longevity). It was found that 135 of the 150 category 1 cultivars, 66 of the 101 category 2 cultivars, 28 of the 51 category 3 cultivars, and 130 of the 589 category 4 cultivars were available (based on cultivar name) in 2015 in U.S. and U.K. national collections and within selected commercial and private collections in the U.S. Overall, 90% of the category 1 historic apple cultivars remain available. This is a result of conservation efforts in genebanks, private collections, and nurseries. High priority cultivars that are not currently protected within genebanks are identified for genebank inclusion in the future.