Hello. Have some wild apple info.
Nope, I'm not dead. Though I'd probably post just as frequently if I was.
No, sadly, one of the dangers of a website operated solely by me is that it reflects my way of operating, which is basically short bursts of activity interspersed with long stretches of inactivity or useless time wasting. Granted, there are those who might regard this blog as useless time wasting, in which case I suppose I should be getting lots done with it.
Anyhow, John Schmid (formerly of Ohio State) was kind enough to pass along these links on apple germplasm collection in Kazakhstan, the center of origin for Malus (or somewhere nearby, anyway):
USDA trips to Kazakhstan 1993-1996
National Geographic story, 2001
And a third site I found all on my own:
Three articles on Kazakh apples, on Mongabay
(The second is actually the same as the NG one above, but without the pretty pictures)
Phil Forsline is an old acquaintance from my Cornell days, and a really great guy (and yet another person I ran into in Las Vegas).
The seeds collected on these trips have been dispersed all over the country (probably the world, really) and are being grown out for evaluation by breeders and botanists in many different places. I've had the pleasure of wandering the Kazakh apple blocks at Geneva, NY and in Arkansas, and there really is a wonderful amount of diversity in it. They range in color from pale yellow to deep red, in taste from unpalatably bitter to remarkably sweet, and in size from little things not much bigger than a good size blueberry up to nearly commercial size. There are a handful I'd think nothing of getting at the super market. But rather than fruit characteristics (which we have a fair amount of good germplasm for anyway), the real resource here is the disease resistance. The apples in Central Asia are nearly disease free, despite being surrounded by zillions of other apples and, of course, never getting a drop of pesticide. Some encouraging discoveries have already been made in this collection, such as in scab resistance. Primarily these are Malus sieversii, a likely progenitor of the modern Malus x domestica, but there are other species as well.
From what I've heard, at one point any one with the space and inclination could simply request Kazakh apple seeds from the USDA, and they'd send them to you, on the condition that you report back on them periodically. Don't know if this is still the case.
Anyhow, thank you all for the happy birthdays. Hopefully you haven't all wandered off permanently in my absence.
The sidebar image is now back on Flickr. I apologize for my bandwidth stealing ways and hope you can all find it in your hearts to forgive me.