Thanks to the hard work of "apple detectives," five types of apples that once were thought to be extinct have been rediscovered in northern Idaho and eastern Washington state.
David Benscoter, a retired federal investigator, worked with Temperate Orchard Conservancy in Oregon and Fedco Seeds in Maine to get positive identifications on the fruit.
"I just love the history of these old apples and what they meant to the first homesteaders that arrived here in eastern Washington and northern Idaho," Benscoter told the Lewiston Tribune. "The apple was the most important fruit you could have, and it could be used in so many ways."
The rediscovered apples are the Shackleford, Saxon Priest, Kittageskee, Ewalt and McAffee varietals.
Apples can have as many as 50 different identifiers, including stem length, shape, size, color and the structure of the bottom.
To help identify the apples, Benscoter used written descriptions from old books and antique watercolor paintings like the ones featured here.
The Shackleford apple, for example, is a large, deep-red apple that keeps well in storage. It's also consistent in shape, color and size, according to Benscoter.
Benscoter first became interested in tracking down old and lost varieties of apples five years ago after he helped a neighbor with some yard work. The neighbor had an apple tree in her yard, and he began investigating.
"I got on the internet and was doing some research," he said. "It just kind of snowballed from there."
Sorting through old county fair records, Benscoter discovered several apples that were considered extinct. Since then, he has rediscovered more than 20 varieties that were considered lost.
Rediscovering these lost apples is important for genetic diversity in apples, according to experts at the Temperate Orchard Conservancy in Oregon.
"We need this diversity spread around," Joanie Cooper said to the Spokesman-Review. "Nobody knows for sure which apple is better."
The conservancy grafts scion wood onto root stock saplings to save those genes. Grafted trees will be available for sale starting in 2019, and the conservancy will also ship scion wood anywhere in the U.S.
Benscoter estimates that of the more than 17,000 named apple varieties that originated in North America, only about 4,000 still exist today.
"Those apples have been forgotten about in the back of someone's field or an old orchard nobody has taken care of in a hundred years," Benscoter said. "I'm hopeful, and obviously the search has been somewhat successful, and so I think there are still many apples out there that can be found."
Benscoter also thinks he's found seven other apples that have not yet been confirmed or are extremely rare.
These include the Autumn Gray, Surprise No. 1, Flushing Spitzenburg (pictured above), Republican Pippin, Bogdanoff Glass, Flory and Early Colton.
Benscoter says the Early Colton is only the second one of its kind known to exist of antique age.