Apricot trees are well known for their delicious fruit and are cultivated worldwide. However their wild ancestor, Armeniaca vulgaris, is now rare and in danger of extinction.
The wild apricot is a small tree between 5 and 8m in height with a greyish brown bark. The flowers can be white, pink or tinged with red and the fruit is yellow to orange often tinged with red on the side most exposed to the sun.
The long history of cultivation makes it difficult to know for certain whether specific populations are really wild or escaped from cultivation. However, the species probably originated in Central Asia and can be found in China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. In their natural environment the wild apricot grows in sparse forests on mountain slopes and gullies between 700 and 3000m.
The fruit, which is high in carotene and vitamin C, provides a valuable source of food eaten fresh, as jams, dried or cooked in meat dishes. The kernels can also be eaten, pressed to make almond oil or used medicinally. Recent studies suggests that the amygdalin extracted from apricot kernels can be used as a treatment for cancer, although further research is needed.
Clearance of the wild apricot’s natural habitat and the overexploitation of fuel wood is causing a steady decline in the last wild populations.
The overharvesting of fruit and seeds for food and by national and international plant breeding companies is also reducing the species’ reproductive success and preventing it from recovering.
The Global Trees Campaign is supporting nature reserves in Central Asia to better protect and plant wild relatives of apricots, apples and pears in their wild habitat.
Did you know?
Kew’s Millenium Seed Bank Partnership currently provides ex situ conservation for more than 3,900 tree species