Heritage Orchard Reclaiming Georgia’s Forgotten Apples

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UGA Extension agents (left to right) Ashley Hoppers, Josh Fuder and Clark MacAllister plant one of the Heritage Orchard’s trees. They located many of the orchard’s varieties through their contacts with local apple growers and other farmers and tree owners. (Photo by Mike Terrazas)

By Michael Terrazas for CAES News

The names tick off like racehorses or colors from some fancy catalog: Carolina Red June, Duchess of Oldenburg, Hewe’s Crab and Rabun Bald, Limbertwig and Nickajack and Parks’ Pippin and many more. They’re apples, hundreds of varieties that thrived in orchards across North Georgia a century ago, before an evolving apple industry swept them off shelves and tables, never to return.

Until now. With the help of a dedicated group of University of Georgia researchers, UGA Cooperative Extension agents and volunteer enthusiasts, Georgia’s lost apple varieties are making a comeback. The newly planted Heritage Apple Orchard, located at UGA’s Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center in Blairsville, is meant to reclaim many of those bygone cultivars and demonstrate why Georgia once was at the center of the U.S. apple industry.

The Heritage Orchard will soon provide another educational agritourism attraction for the Mountain Research and Education Center, a unit of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. But it will also yield satisfying produce for Georgia consumers and researchers.

“One very basic benefit is simply to reconnect Georgians with the history, and the agricultural history, of their state,” said Stephen Mihm, associate professor of history in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “But there’s another, very important virtue to this work, which is that the apple cultivars that thrive in Georgia are not typical in their tolerance for heat and humidity. There’s growing interest in tapping into those traits genetically, and that’s not only restricted to apples.”

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