Walk the Great Wall of China, climb Machu Picchu in Peru, or sail on the Amazon River. These are typical travel bucket-list items. However, if your passion is horticulture, your list of must-visit destinations may include some more obscure places, such as the birthplace of modern apples.
The Tian Shan Mountains, which straddle the border between China and Kazakhstan in Central Asia, have been scientifically proven to be the home of the apple tree. The ancient wild apple species of the region, Malus sieversii, which is still found here today, shares its genetic code with our modern Golden Delicious apple, and wild apple forests continue to thrive in the contained, snow-capped mountains near Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan. The city was previously known as Alma-Ata, which means ‘father of apples’.
According to Buks Nel, the Agricultural Writers of South Africa’s Agriculturist of the Year 2019 and Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing’s new variety expert, it was a colleague from a fruit research programme in Bolzano, Italy, who threw down the gauntlet, saying, “Anybody who takes his job in the apple industry seriously should visit the wild apple forests of Kazakhstan at least once in his or her lifetime.”
Nel, with Frederik Voigt, South African Plant Improvement Organisation Trust’s business unit manager for production, took up the challenge to travel to rural Kazakhstan to see for themselves where the modern apple originated.
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