Seven apple varieties previously believed to be lost or extinct have been found in the Palouse region, including several on land near Pullman; Colfax, Whitman County; and Moscow, Idaho.
The Lost Apple Project and the Temperate Orchard Conservancy announced the latest discoveries this month. Founded by Dave Benscoter, the Lost Apple Project has partnered with the Whitman County Historical Society to identify and preserve heritage apple trees and orchards in Washington and Idaho.
The groups have found 29 apples once thought to have disappeared.
The latest seven apples were discovered in the fall in old orchards in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. According to a news release from the Lost Apple Project, four of them were discovered on the Palouse.
The Almota apple, which has pale yellow skin striped with red, was located southeast of Pullman on land farmed by Roy Druffel’s family. According to the Lost Apple Project, the Almota was a seedling first discovered in the late 19th century by Charles Moys near Pullman.
The Ivanhoe, described as having green or slightly yellow skin with reddish blush, was found a mile west of Pullman at the site of what was once the Pullman Country Club. The club no longer exists, but there are many old apple trees on the property.
The Eper apple variety was found 20 miles north of Colfax. The apple is small with greenish-yellow skin and red stripes. It is believed to be one of 34 fruit varieties imported from Hungary in the 1890s by the U.S. government and obtained by George Ruedy, owner of the Colfax Nursery in Colfax.
The Iowa Flat, a yellow apple with red blush and red streaks, was found near Orchard Avenue in Moscow. It most likely originated in Iowa and in 1901 appeared in an experimental orchard in Farmdale, Illinois.
Other varieties were found near Salem and Flora in Oregon and Waitsburg, Walla Walla County.
Benscoter, of the Lost Apple Project, told the Daily News that his team often finds these lost apple varieties after curious property owners ask him to inspect a tree on their land.
Some apples, such as the Almota, are in orchards the Lost Apple Project has been inspecting for years.
The Lost Apple Project, after finding the apple tree, will send the apples to an identification expert to determine if it is indeed special.
“Every once in a while we get lucky and find one that’s been lost for a long time,” he said.
If the tree does produce a lost apple variety, grafts of the tree are sent to the Temperate Orchard Conservancy so two trees can be planted there. This ensures the apple will never be lost again, Benscoter said.
The Lost Apple Project will also sell grafting wood to the public so people can plant their own trees.
To dig into the history of these lost varieties, Benscoter said his team relies on books that document apples in the U.S. The latest book, Dan Bussey’s seven-volume “The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada,” was published in 2015 and has the most complete list of apple varieties, Benscoter said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, when documenting these varieties in the late 19th century, made watercolor paintings of the apples.
Benscoter said he appreciates the history of these apples. More than a century ago, they were relied upon by homesteaders as a reliable source of food and apple cider vinegar. He said scientists are interested in them now because some of the varieties may be resistant to pests and diseases.
Benscoter said he is thrilled the public has taken an interest in these apples and encourages them to contact him if they have any leads on a possible rare apple.
“I get contacted by people from all over the United States,” he said.