Preservation collection of traditional fruit tree varieties
The preservation collection of traditional fruit tree varieties was established in 2005. 216 specimens of apple trees of 127 varieties were planted, all of which came from the Polish Academy of Sciences Botanical Garden – Center for Biological Diversity Conservation in Warsaw-Powsin. In the following years the collection was expanded through successive plantings and now consists of: 594 apple trees of 276 varieties, 26 cherry trees of 6 varieties, 8 sweet cherry trees of 4 varieties, 21 pear trees of 8 varieties and 28 plum trees in 8 varieties on an area of 2.38 ha. Since 2010, a plant nursery for fruit tree rootstocks is being developed in the orchard, where scions are grafted which were collected from old varieties of trees during field expeditions to old orchards and private gardens.
At the turn of the 20th century most Polish households had an orchard. The development of the science of gardening after the World War II, combined with intensive fruit-farming, led to a decreased diversity of cultivated fruit trees and to the extinction of many old varieties. This epoch brought a rise in popularity of modern low-headed varieties which were prone to disease and not resistant to low temperatures. Few specimens of the old varieties survived until today, yet they are being constantly grubbed out because of their age and bad condition. Their extinction would certainly be a great loss as they considerably increase the local biodiversity and form an important part of Polish culture. Protecting old fruit tree varieties prevents genetic erosion – a process which leads to a dramatic decrease in the number of species and varieties of various organisms.
It is important to note that individual fruit trees growing in orchards are the source of many important traits, such as resistance to diseases and unfavorable climatic influences and extremely valuable taste qualities. Old varieties of orchard plants should be protected, not only because they are unique and have a value of its own, but also because they contain genes that may become economically valuable in the future.
The existing old varieties may provide a starting material for the cultivation of new, improved varieties which may be more resistant to diseases and unfavorable climatic conditions. Furthermore, the old varieties are healthier for the environment, because they do not require the use of chemical crop protection. From the environmental point of view the old orchards are biodiversity hotspots and often form parts of contour buffer strips which give refuge to many plants and animals. The large tree crowns provide nesting and feeding space for many species of birds, including titmice, starlings, waxwings and the great spotted and the European green woodpecker.
The Convention on biological diversity, signed by Poland in 1995, changed our attitudes to environmental protection and enforced the conservation of not only rare species and ones threatened by extinction, but also species and varieties of domesticated plants. The Articles 8 and 9 of the Convention describe in detail the tasks related to in situ and ex situ conservation. According to the definitions, in situ conservation means “the conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties”, and ex situ conservation means “the conservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats”. Thus, ex situ conservation applies not only to the protection of living organisms in arboreta or botanical gardens outside their natural habitats, but also to the long-term storage of seeds and vegetative parts of plants in appropriate conditions. In contrast, in situ conservation entails establishing protected areas and the management and sustainable development of neighboring areas.