Newly planted apple trees in Apple Valley

Twelve newly planted apple trees are now growing in Apple Valley, just west of Lyons, Colorado. A landowner contacted us a few months ago and we agreed on Central Asian apple trees. All are grafted, some last year, some this year, on Antonovka rootstock, and are therefore full sized trees when grown out. A neighboring landowner heard about the project and volunteered to take three trees, for a total of 12.  It was a beautiful day to be outside planting in beautiful Apple Valley, and the family living on the property did a lot of the heavy lifting to get the trees in the ground and are going to take great care of the trees in the coming years.  The land owner also did a lot of the heavy lifting and, key point here, made the property available for some trees.  The neighbors who took the three trees are master gardeners, and their property reflects the skills and effort required.

Apple Valley still has some apple trees, two in the immediate area, but not nearly as many as in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  We are hoping to change that, and are well on the way to doing so with this first planting.  There is a bit more room on the property, so we may be helping to get a few more in the new orchard.  Thanks to everyone involved.

Apple Valley Orchard

Apple Valley Orchard Location

Apples, crabapples, everywhere…

A large majority of the pink flowered trees you see in and around Boulder County over the past couple of weeks are apple and crabapple trees, and a large portion of the white flowered trees are as well (some are pear or other type of fruit trees, and some are non-fruit bearing trees). All of the crabapples species are in the Malus genus of the Rosaceae famliy.

The apples you see at farmer’s markets, road side stands, grocery stores and everywhere else are all, with exceedingly rare exceptions, descendants of a single species of crabapple, Malus sieversii. M. sieversii is also known as Asian wild crabapple or Almaty crabapple. Almaty is the largest city of the country of Kazakhstan, in central Asia near China. The mountains and hills near Almaty have forests of wild apple trees, just as the mountains and hills of Boulder County have forests of Ponderosa, Spruce and Lodgepole pines.  Imagine our hills and mountains to the west covered with apple trees….

Those wild apple tree forests are being cut down at a rapid pace to clear the land for farms, buildings, roads, and other human infrastructure.  The planet is in the process of losing it’s apple genetic diversity, which is a threat to cultivated apples everywhere.  But, there is something you can do.  The USDA has a collection of wild central Asian M. sieversii at their research station near Lake Geneva, NY.  Scientists with the USDA have conducted genetic studies of these trees, and have determined that a ‘core collection’ of about 100 trees covers about 95% of the genetic diversity represented in the entire collection.  Widespread Malus has been requesting, from the USDA, seeds and scion material from these core collection trees for three years, and working with others around the country (and globe) to share and distribute this core collection of apple genetic wealth.  If you would like to participate, please get in touch with us, see our contact page, and let us know.  You do not need to know anything about apples trees, or need much space to grow a tree.  We can help you with choosing an appropriate tree for your space and level of interest.  We only ask that we have access to the tree in the future to gather scion material and some of the fruit (and the seeds)  if we need it.  We are out of trees to plant for 2016, but please sign up for planting in the spring of 2017.  Letting us know now helps us prepare trees for next year.

Who’s doing what with apple biodiversity?

I thought it would be nice to have a list of projects working to protect apple biodiversity in North America (or elsewhere, if any readers can add information in the comments). Here’s a start:

  • Widespread Malus … that’s us! Working to build a highly diverse collection of Malus sieversii, as well as distribute scions, grafted trees, and seedlings.
  • Apple Diversity Group … a collaboration between Dalhousie University and Agriculture Canada, this group’s Apple Biodiversity Collection in Nova Scotia has 1000+ different apples, including about a hundred Malus sieversii.
  • USDA Plant Genetic Resources Unit … located in Geneva, NY, USDA PGRU maintains one of the world’s most extensive apple collections, including diverse wild apples (M. sieversii, M. orientalis, and others). Interested members of the public may request open-pollinated M. sieversii seed from PGRU.
  • Temperate Orchard Conservancy … located in Oregon, TOC is replicating the Botner Collection (perhaps the largest private collection of apples in the world … 4,500 different apples).
  • Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project … promoting apples and orchards in Montezuma County, Colorado and around the state. Also locating and propagating rare Colorado Heritage apples.
  • North American Fruit Explorers … a group of folks interested in all kinds of fruit. There are quite a few members with their own diverse collections of apples and other fruit. Visit the web site or the facebook page.
  • Seed Savers Exchange … not just for seeds! Iowa-based SSE has quite a nice collection of apples (hundreds), and numerous members who share apple scions with other members.
  • Agrarian Sharing Network … is sharing diverse fruit and vegetable material in the Pacific Northwest. ASN has done extensive evaluations and cloning of the Botner collection and several other large bioregional collections, and is involved in a number of propagation fairs.

Can you help us add more projects to this list? Please send us an email!

312 apples grafted, and counting!

We’ve got 200+ trees grafted for 63rd Street Farm, to be planted out later this month. Also, a few for giveaways, and maybe 50 Malus sieversii grafted from scions received from USDA in Geneva, NY. There are about 15 Antonovka rootstocks left to graft … most of these will be grafted with Malus sieversii.

2016 grafted apples.

2016 grafted apples.

Are you interested in a Malus sieversii tree for Spring 2017? Let us know if so!

Malus sieversii from USDA … a Widespread Malus data compilation


This document in PDF format (100 kb)

Data compilation in Microsoft Excel format (962 kb)

Data compilation in Open Document Spreadsheet format (314 kb)


Widespread Malus has compiled data on the USDA collection of Malus sieversii that might be useful in selecting accessions (scions or budwood) to request from USDA. We are collecting a ‘core diversity collection’ from the USDA collection that is especially diverse. Our goals are to make this diversity available to others, to grow out large number of open-pollinated seedlings, and make deliberate crosses with hand pollination in pursuit of useful new apple cultivars. However, there are a large number of other Malus sieversii in the USDA apple collection that will not be part of our diversity subset.

USDA’s Malus sieversii collection has enormous genetic diversity, and could serve as a useful reservoir of genes for use in breeding projects. There is already work being done in academia and by small numbers of nursery professionals and/or hobbyists.

We are hopeful that others can use this data compilation in their own work.

The data have been compiled into a Microsoft Excel format as well as Open Document Spreadsheet format (which may be opened by freely-available Open Office or its descendents). We may also make some data available in other formats. Inquiries regarding how to use the data are welcome.

We are responsible for any data-processing errors in this document, but we are not responsible for any requests you may make from USDA. We recommend that you cross-check your request with the GRIN database itself, and with the USDA Apple Catalog, to ensure you are requesting what you expect. Search the GRIN database at:

Download USDA’s Apple Catalog from the link in the next section.


Please consider carefully your ability to make use of any material you request from USDA. USDA personnel do an amazing job of maintaining this collection (and many others), often with limited resources. If you are not sure you can use what you are considering requesting, perhaps a request for this material isn’t the best use of your (or their) time.

USDA’s cutoff date for scion wood requests is January 10th (for shipment by March 20th). To request scion wood, you should download the USDA Apple Catalog, at:

There is a request form at the front of the catalog. The catalog is in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format.

We had a bit of difficulty locating rootstock last month for March 2016 delivery, and suggest that you order ASAP if you have not yet done so. We ordered this year from Willamette Nursery and CopenHaven Farms (we received excellent rootstocks from Willamette in the past, and are ordering from CopenHaven for the first time this year, but are not recommending any particular nursery in this document).

In addition to, or instead of, requesting scions from USDA, you may wish to consider growing open-pollinated seedlings of Malus sieversii trees in the collection. If so, request "100 Open-Pollinated Malus sieversii seeds" on the order form. Requests for these seeds are typically filled with 25 seeds from each of four mother trees. If you are interested in cooperating with others to diversify the seeds you grow, please let us know. For example, we may be able to share seeds among several people so that instead of 25 seeds from each of four mother trees, each person ends up with 5 seeds from each of 20 mother trees. Pollen parents for these seeds are not known.


Not all USDA records for Malus sieversii are in the compilation. Both the USDA Apple Catalog and the GRIN page for each accession were examined. (see the BLUE-LETTERED columns in the image below. Y = available, N = not available, blank = no data) If the accession was in the GRIN database, but wasn’t indicated as AVAILABLE in the apple catalog or the accession’s GRIN page, it was not included. Some accessions were available as seeds and are available only for academic research; these were not included, either. Some accessions are listed in the GRIN page as "check regarding availability" — these are indicated with an M for maybe.

Note that the Apple Catalog and the GRIN page availability information may conflict. This is most likely due to GMAL accessions not being in the permanent catalog, and many/most of these GMAL accessions will be cut down during Winter 2015/2016 to make room for additional trees in the permanent collection. If you are interested in a GMAL accession that is not listed as being in the apple catalog, you should request it this year. We have inquired to make sure that trees have not yet been cut, but haven’t heard back by time of publication.

Apples that may be available from Widespread Malus are indicated in the RED-LETTERED column. However, quantities are extremely limited this year as we have barely begun our collection.

Screen shot from data compilation spreadsheet

The spreadsheet document has multiple "tabs" shown along the bottom. The first two, FULL SET BY PRIMARY ID and FULL SET BY BRIX contain all the records in the data set. Several other tabs (PARTIAL — FB RESISTANCE, PARTIAL — SCAB RESISTANCE, PARTIAL — ASTRIN. & BRIX>=11.5, and DIVERSITY CORE SETS) include only the relevant records. Two other tabs include descriptions of what data is in each column and references used in compiling this data set.

Negative 9 in a numeric column means NO DATA.


  1. If you are interested in helping Widespread Malus build out diversity core set collections, you may want to request accessions from the DIVERSITY CORE SETS tab that we have not yet acquired. We may request scions of these accessions from you in the future, and of course you may request accessions from us. Would you like to coordinate requests for this material this year? Let us know … perhaps several requests can be coordinated to maximize the diversity of scions received.
  2. If you have other interests, we have provided several subsets of this data … for fireblight resistance, scab resistance, and astringent flavor with high BRIX. However, you can sort the data yourself if you are familiar with spreadsheet software.
  3. Are you willing to share scionwood or budwood with us or others? You are under no obligation to do so by using this compilation, but if you are willing, we’d love to know about it. Please let us know what you are requesting so that we know about it.
  4. If you need assistance sorting through the data, you’re welcome to contact us. We are not plant breeders, nursery professionals or biologists, but we’re happy to make suggestions if you’d like, based on the information in the data compilation.
  5. Note that a great number of the accessions that are available do not have any observations/attributes in the data set. Unless you are interested in rolling the dice to see what you get, these accessions will probably not be of use to you.


We welcome your interest in the genetic treasure that wild Malus sieversii represents. We all owe a great debt to USDA for making this material available, and to Central Asian nations who made it possible for USDA to acquire these trees.

We are promoting apple-growing more generally in the Boulder, Colorado area. We are also interested in cider making, providing educational opportunities regarding apples, and promoting native pollinator conservation through our orchard projects.

We hope you’ll keep up with our work at or via Twitter (@widespreadmalus). Contact us by email at the addresses on the web site.

The future of the apple

A hundred and fifty years ago, there were thousands of named varieties of apples in North America.  Today, most of them have disappeared.  As pests and diseases evolve, and with the need to adapt to emerging conditions (climate change, anyone?), we need diverse apple genetics more than ever. But, that genetic diversity is threatened.

USDA apple 'core collection' rows at the USDA apple collection in Geneva, NY.

Dr. C. Thomas Chao, USDA apple collection curator, describes the collection to a tour group. USDA has a world-class collection of apples in Geneva, NY, including the group of Malus sieversii individuals we are acquiring. (c) 2015, Eric Johnson

The genome of the domestic apple is derived mostly from a couple of wild species, including in particular Malus sieversii, which is native to Central Asia. As apple seeds were traded and grown westward along the Silk Road, the available pool of genes was narrowed, so that historical European apples carried less overall diversity than their relatives in Central Asia. The apples brought from Europe to North America resulted in further genetic narrowing, although the “Johnny Appleseed” phenomenon of planting randomly cross-pollinated apple seeds did result in a expansion of apple varieties here. Add in industrial agriculture’s focus on a dozen or so types, many of which are closely related to one another, and the picture for the future of the apple production is uncertain.

At the same time, Malus sieversii populations are under pressure in Central Asia, through clearing of forests for development, harvest for firewood, etc.  This has truly disastrous potential, as the entire world is dependent on those forests for new genes to improve domesticated apples.

Fortunately the situation has begun to change. There are projects in Central Asia to protect wild apples, and breeders are working with these wild apples all over the world.

Close to home, USDA personnel and researchers in host countries collected seeds in the 1990s from threatened wild apple populations across Central Asia, in order to propagate the species and conserve genetic diversity. Collection localities ranged from moist, high-latitude sites with extreme winters to dry, lower-latitude hilltops with thin soils and less precipitation than Boulder typically receives. USDA established an orchard of more than a thousand Malus sieversii seedlings at Geneva, New York for use in breeding and research. Phil Forsline, one of the USDA scientists involved in these expeditions, estimates that these expeditions “more than doubled” the available apple biodiversity in North America.

Scientists have also assessed the genetic diversity of these trees and identified “core collections” of individuals that include the great majority of the diversity likely to be found in the M. sieversii orchard in Geneva. As a result, it’s apparent that a carefully-chosen collection of 100 or so individual trees can represent an enormous swath of available worldwide apple biodiversity. Deliberate grafting of multiple genetic individuals on each tree could fit them into a large suburban backyard.

We have used USDA’s Genetic Resources Information Network database to prioritize acquisition of individuals from the highly diverse core collections. With help from apple collector and breeder Don O’Shea of Ogdensburg, NY, who grafted trees for us this year, we now have about 50 of the necessary trees “in the ground” here in Boulder.  We’ll continue to request additional apples from this diverse subset of USDA’s collection in coming years, doing the grafting ourselves now that we have gained the necessary skills.  Eventually, we’ll build out our collection to include as many of the 100+ members of the diversity core collections as possible.

2015 M. sieversii scions on Antonovka

2015 M. sieversii scions on Antonovka rootstock in April, 2015. Starting small! (c) 2015, Eric Johnson

That’s when the real fun begins.

First, we plan to make clonal material from these trees available to others at low or no cost, so that more people can take advantage of and protect this priceless genetic material.

Second, as the trees in our own Malus sieversii orchard begin to bear fruit, we’ll collect seeds and distribute those, making it possible to distribute an entire collection of apple biodiversity, akin to our own, in a single padded mailer, for the cost of a couple dollars of postage.

Third, while I’m sure the wild trees will be lovely, and some will produce useable (if not commercially popular) fruit, we’ll start to make controlled crosses with domestic varieties.  Our goal here will be to begin creating the apple varieties of the future … apples adapted to our local conditions and needs.

Many of the trees at Geneva have shown some resistance to fireblight, perhaps the most significant disease of apple trees in our area. Some of the individuals we plant locally will have a degree of fireblight resistance. We anticipate that some of their offspring will also have fireblight resistance. In the long term, the potential exists to develop disease-resistant varieties, reducing the need for expensive chemical  disease controls.

We’ve actually already begun to distribute these wild apples in a somewhat less-organized way.  As a result of its work being publicized in Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire, USDA has made open-pollinated M. sieversii seed from its Geneva planting available to the general public. Labeled as to the identity of the mother tree, the pollen parents of these seeds are a mixed bag of whatever M. sieversii pollen the bees happened to be carrying around. We have grown out young trees from these seeds, using seed lots from eight mother trees. We have distributed more than 100 seedlings from the open-pollinated seed lots to interested parties, and have additional seedlings awaiting permanent planting locations.

Diverse assortment of grafted Malus sieversii trees, collected in nursery bed with hail shield, Boulder, CO. (c) 2015, Eric Johnson

Grafted Malus sieversii trees after a season of growth in the nursery, September 2015. Note the hail shield … a worthwhile precaution in our climate. (c) 2015, Eric Johnson

It’s important to note that most of the M. sieversii trees, and their immediate offspring, will not bear fruit marketable for fresh eating. In modern apple breeding programs, thousands of seedlings may be grown out to identify a single new variety for commercial production. However, for local culinary uses and smaller-scale production, a much larger fraction of seedlings may be acceptable.  Others will bear fruit that may be made into preserves, or pressed and used in juice blends, fermented cider or vinegar.  And in the long term, there is great potential for breeding high-quality varieties for fresh eating using a local M. sieversii collection.

Anyone with an apple tree, or enough space for one, can participate in this important work. The future of the apple can be created in our yards and gardens.