Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Influence of Apples

By Marilynne Manguba, protection specialist 

The Big Cougar fire grew to over 65,000 acres in western Idaho this summer. The Nature Conservancy’s staff in Idaho anxiously monitored the status of the fire as it surrounded our 1500-acre Garden Creek Preserve. Nine structures were lost and a large portion of the Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area was affected.  Amazingly, the structures on the preserve at the old homestead on the Snake River in Hell’s Canyon were spared, but I was particularly interested to learn the orchard survived.   

Aerial view of Garden Creek Preserve post-fire. Photo by Michael Atchinson

Garden Creek was one of the first preserves I visited when I first started working for the Conservancy. I well remember relaxing in the orchard reading Michael Pollan’s, Botany of Desire:  A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. The book explores the question of whether plants or humans are in control. Are humans selecting desirable traits, or, are plants manipulating humans by offering up desirable traits?  I was reading the chapter on apples. Pollan speculates that apples did a pretty good job convincing humans to spread their seeds across America, effectively domesticating the American frontier by seeding it with Old World plans. Land grants in the Northwest Territory even required a settler to plant 50 apple or pear trees in order to qualify. Surrounded by an extensive orchard, I looked up from my book to see an example of some very successful apples (and other fruit) and nearby a deer peacefully munching on an apple. Humans aren’t the only creatures manipulated by plants.

A deer enjoying the preserve's orchard. Photo by Marilynne Manguba

Since that day at Garden Creek, I’ve visited orchards on former homesteads all over Idaho, on the Salmon River, on the South Fork of the Snake River, in the Lemhi Valley, and just down the road from my house. There’s even an Idaho Heritage Tree Project focused on finding, cataloging, and preserving the many apple varieties found in all those homestead orchards.  

So next time you’re biting into that Cortland or Orange Pippin or enjoying some fresh cider, make sure the apple thanks you. 

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