CALIFORNIA GOLD-MINING SITES HOLD HIDDEN TREASURE: RARE HEIRLOOM FRUITS AND NUTS. SCIENTISTS HOPE TO LEARN FROM THE MOUNTAIN ORCHARDS, WHICH HAVE SURVIVED DROUGHT, DISEASES AND PESTS WITHOUT HUMAN HELP FOR 150 YEARS. “THEY ARE GROWING IN AN ENVIRONMENT THAT MAY BE MORE LIKE ENVIRONMENTS WE’RE GOING TO HAVE IN THE FUTURE…HOTTER, DRIER”, SAYS CHARLIE BRUMMER, DIRECTOR OF UC DAVIS’S PLANT BREEDING CENTER.
The trees of the hidden orchard have remained productive for more than a century without any assistance. Far from being a lost piece of history marooned on a mountain, the orchard is a treasure chest.
This Canadian Reinette apple grows in Malakoff Diggins State Park. The apple is still popular in France, where it originated. It was introduced in California by Felix Gillet, a French horticulturalist who imported hundreds of fruit and nut trees from France and more than two dozen other nations.
The Pineapple Quince, found growing on an old mining claim in Goodyears Bar, is credited to Luther Burbank, a California horticulturalist who created more than 800 varieties of plants.
A chestnut, named Donna de Lyon after the matriarch on whose property it was located, could be a survivor of the Marron de Lyon, imported by Gillet. So far its originating tree, in Camptonville, is the only one known to exist in the state. A nursery is now propagating 1,000 trees to help reintroduce it.
Photographs by Luisa Dorr for National Geographic