The Wild Apples of Kazakhstan

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The Wild Apples of Kazakhstan4

Frank Gohlke, Professor of Photography, School of Art, University of Arizona

University of Arizona MENAS Colloquium Series


February 13, 2015

The world's thousands of varieties of cultivated apples originated in the wild fruit forests of the Tien Shan Mountains of eastern Kazakhstan and northern Kyrgyzstan. Although the current genetic makeup of Malus domestica, the apple found in markets around the globe, is complicated, there is general agreement that our apples' evolution began with M. sieversii, which constituted the bulk of the wild forests that stretched for more than a thousand kilometers north and south at low to middle elevations of the Tien Shan. The Twentieth Century has witnessed the decimation of this unique resource, sacrificed to create pasturage for livestock, cropland, orchards, land for housing including suburban development, and even firewood during World War Two. I have been fascinated by the story of the apple for almost forty years. I also like to eat them, especially varieties I haven't sampled before. I was determined to see the remaining forests before their decline was irreversible, and perhaps contribute something to the public awareness of the threat to this irreplaceable reservoir of astonishing genetic diversity, including in Kazakhstan itself. My talk will address these issues as well as giving a visual introduction to the forests themselves and their place in the landscape of Kazkahstan.

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