logoIn the mid-1800s, there were thousands of unique varieties of apple trees in the United States, some of the most astounding diversity ever developed in a food crop. The apple industry settled on a handful of varieties, and the rest were largely forgotten. They became commercially extinct -- but not quite biologically extinct due to remaining abandoned trees left near old homesteads or in orchards turned into people’s backyards.

This story played out in many places; one of them was in Colorado. In the late 1880’s much of the land in what is now the city of Boulder was planted for fruit production. Remnants of old orchards can be seen across Boulder County, and these abandoned trees represent cultivars that have withstood disease and the environmental stressors of the semiarid climate as well as genetic diversity absent from commercial apple production. 

The aims of the Boulder Apple Tree Project are to map where these "apples of old" are in Boulder,to  identify historic -- and potentially rare -- cultivars, and to preserve this diversity for future generations. We are committed to involving students, as we believe that research experiences are much more powerful when learning is locally-relevant, when it is multidisciplinary, and when it is experiential. We are also committed to involving the Boulder community, as we believe in collaborative learning that fosters a strong sence of place.

apple tree project

From left: View of fields in north Boulder, Colorado circa 1920; Aerial imagery from the US Forest Service from as early as 1938 shows characteristic orchard row plantings in Boulder (this photo is north of Mapleton along what now is 4th street); the diversity of heirloom apple cultivars; a CU student collecting a leaf sample from a tree on Flagstaff mountain. Drawing (top right) by Jane Smith.