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A Forest of Apples

February 3, 2011
Close your eyes for a moment. It’s a beautiful, sunny, warm day in May. You’re standing in the midst of a vast forest of apple trees in bloom. You drink in the intoxicating fragrance of the blossoms and listen to the pulsing hum of busy bees as they go about the business of gathering pollen.

If we were to return to the apple forest in fall, when the promise of those blossoms materializes in the form of fruit, we would be in for another fragrant treat.  The ripening apples would have an amazing diversity of smells and tastes.  Aside from the "normal" apple taste, some would taste and smell like roses, some like anise, some like coconuts, some like orange and lemon peels, some like strawberries, some like pineapples, some like green bananas, some like pears, some like potatoes, and some even like popcorn.  Other apples would be "spitters," tasting sour or bitter.

Your presence in the forest is, of course, make believe.  But it may surprise you to know that the forest is not.  Before Carl Frederich von Ledebour happened upon this incredible apple forest in the early 1830s, it was unknown to the Western world.  It lies deep within a mountain range in what is now Kazakhstan (see map below).  In the midst of the forest is the bustling city of Almaty (meaning "fatherland of apples" in Kazakh).  The location has both its good points and bad points as far as the fate of the forest is concerned: good, because the proximity of the growing city has allowed scientists to access to the forest, which in the past was remote and almost inaccessible; bad, because the city is encroaching on the forest as land is cleared for high-rises and vacation homes.  The apple forest region on the map is circled in green.

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