In the ancient fruit and nut forests of Kyrgyzstan just 111 Malus niedzwetzkyana trees are left. These wild ancestors of our Stepford apples are now reduced to a few wizened and twisted veterans who, in the past 50 years, have watched 90% of the forests around them disappear forever.
The tastes and textures we now know as apple, pear, plum, cherry, walnut, almond and pistachio all evolved in these mountain orchards. From here they spread across the world.
But evolution doesn’t just stop and take a break when it’s finished. It’s an endless, dynamic process, a constant flow of insect, fungus, fruit, bird, bear, weather and geology. That is, until humans come along and take over.
We hold in stasis the desirable attributes of the things we want, and therefore fight harder and harder against the things we don’t. Pests and disease continue to evolve, so fertilizers, pesticides and genetic technologies of ever greater potency are required to keep things just exactly how we like them. Once you start interfering, you have to keep interfering. And the thing we’re tinkering with is finely balanced. So far we’ve been clever enough. Perhaps our vision is that one day we’ll be able command the whole of nature under our baton.
Unfortunately we’re making a bit of a hash of it. As we degrade the habitats in which diverse gene pools flourish, we blindly squander our own resources. As we lose ancient species of tree from the forests of Central Asia, genes that have developed over millions of years drop out of the picture and become unavailable. The genetic diversity of the plants we rely on to survive becomes narrower and narrower. As diversity reduces, our capacity to adapt to catastrophic events diminishes.
Dazzled by the cleverness of our blade, we are sawing away at the very branch we are sitting on.
Just 10% to go. No one seems to care much. And the rest of the branch is going to crack under the strain anyway.
So, goodbye apples.