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What’s eating albert apple: field notes from Central Asia

Posted on by Victoria Price

Spring 2016

Kyrgyzstan’s fruit and nut forest is a pretty spectacular sight. Set against a backdrop of towering toblerone-esque mountains and a clear blue sky, the springtime blossoms of the wild apple and pear trees look dazzlingly beautiful. Until one hits you square in the face as your horse sidesteps a particularly muddy patch.

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The forest is famed as the ancestral home of many of the common fruits we find on our tables today, including apples, pears and apricots. Many wild relatives of domesticated species can still be found here, like this pear below.

People are intrinsically intertwined with the forest; they use its resources for grazing livestock, construction and food. The picture below shows foods collected from the forest including apples, walnuts and apricot compote; a sweet soft drink made from preserved fruit and sugar. Threatened apples and pears often have small fruit that are not consumed by people but may be harvested for other purposes, including decoration.

A Kyrgyz spread; notice the walnuts, apples and peach compote.

However, this  close  connection  with people is also a threat to the forest; as populations grow, grazing pressure on livestock can limit forest regeneration. Throughout the forest we bumped into free-roaming cows, sheep, horses and donkeys.

cows

Grazing damage

In addition to the grazing issue, hybridisation with domesticated fruit trees can lead to ‘genetic erosion’ of wild species. Endangered species such as this Niedzwetzky’s apple (Malus niedzwetzkyana) are frequently found isolated from other individuals of their species – increasing the risk of hybridisation with other wild and domesticated apple species that surround them.

Planted  Malus niedzwetzkyana, surrounded by other apple species, also in bloom.

The GTC are working with Kyrgyzstan’s forest department to grow threatened apple and pear trees to restore them to the forest and build up populations.

nursery (2)

Rangers are also helping us to fence off mother trees in the forest, to protect them from hungry livestock.

Warden with the Malus niedzwetzkyana mother tree he fenced

With the aim to make many more of these;

Malus niedzwetzkyana

Malus niedzwetzkyana flower Credit GTC

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Written by Victoria Price

Victoria works as a Programme Officer at Fauna & Flora International. In her role she provides support to the Global Trees Campaign and is responsible for the delivery of several field projects including Central Asia & Madagascar.

Comments

  1. Viktoria Wagner on

    Thanks for the nice blog entry! – One comment: the picture under “Many wild relatives of domesticated species can still be found here, like this pear below.” likely shows a planted pear, as all trees are neatly aligned. As far as I know, wild pear relatives (Pyrus regelii, Pyrus korshinskii) in the region do have small, woody fruits, which are not consumed.

    Reply
    1. Victoria Price Post author on

      Thanks for your comments Viktoria. All your points are true; these trees were actually found running alongside a (dry) stream which may explain their linear layout (although not all of the trees behind are pear trees). You are eagle-eyed though and it may be true that these trees were planted along time ago. We hope a botanist will confirm what species this is in the fruiting season. You may have also noticed that the Malus niedzwetzkyana pictures are also of planted specimens. The local Forestry staff plant a number of trees every year in the forest (and sometimes outside of it as you will see in the photos above).

      Also correct about the fruits – we mention in the blog how people use forest resources but I have now made it clear that we do not mean to imply the pears themselves are consumed. They are certainly not popular as a source of fresh fruit!

      Reply

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