Retired engineer saves 1,200 types of apples from extinction

For 20 years, he has gone on a hunt for different apple varieties.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Wooden crates filled with apples.Damian Lugowski/iStock

According to the University of Illinois, there are 7,500 varieties of apples grown throughout the world, 2,500 of which are in the United States. So why don't we see more of these apples? Because some have gone extinct.

This may soon change as a retired engineer called Tom Brown has made it his mission to save different varieties of apples from extinction, according to a post on Reddit from Thursday. So far, Brown has saved 1,200 types of apples.

Different apple varieties

It all began in 1998, when at a farmer's market, Brown first acquired knowledge of a few heritage apple types which were standardized in the 18th and 19th centuries. Brown passionately decided that acquiring and saving different apple varieties was a project he wanted to dedicate his time and retirement.

Brown started out by seeking out experienced orchardists and learning from them how to cut, cultivate, and graft apple trees. Low and behold, 20 years later, he has now rediscovered and reintroduced over 1,200 varieties of historic apples that would have gone extinct without his efforts.

Brown even has a website called Apple Search that he uses to help fuel his search for long-lost apples. He also roams around Appalachia seeking out people who may be able to assist him with his search.

Investigative work

He looks for old orchards mentioned in historical records or goes on a hunt based on the tales of different citizens who are often in their 80s and 90s and remember apples that existed many years ago. When he finally discovers a new tree, Brown takes a sample for further study.

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Using information found in records from old orchards, firsthand witness accounts, and even botanists, he studies and compares leaf, tree, and fruit features. He has even been known to send samples to the people who have directed him toward the new apple varieties.

Brown's work is of an investigative nature. It is thorough and precise and it has thus far proven successful. How many more apple varieties will Brown reintroduce? Only time will tell.

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