Five apple trees, well over a hundred years old, at the “log home of Chief Plenty Coups” south of Billings are the featured subject of an article in the most recent issue of Mountains and Minds, a publication of Montana State University (MSU).
The trees are a rarity that a team of researchers at MSU are trying to identify and preserve for horticultural purposes as well as for the possibility of creating entrepreneurial opportunities. They have found some 70 other “orchards” of such heritage apple trees around the state which are also part of the research.
The apple trees which Plenty Coups planted in 1903, are “historically and culturally significant because of their age and ties to the visionary Indian chief. They also are scientifically valuable because they may offer insights about survival and resistance that could improve the quality of modern apple trees. The fact that the heritage trees have lived for more than a century indicates that they may harbor special qualities, such as resistance to disease, drought and pests that could be introduced into modern apple trees to make them more resilient,” states the article by Evelyn Boswell.
The trees are “economically significant” because they could create opportunities for Montana nurseries interested in marketing trees and apples descended from Plenty Coups’ orchard.
The goals are those of the Montana Heritage Orchard Program founded by Toby Day and Brent Sarchet, which is pursuing research with MSU Extension. Day is the Extension horticulture specialist, and Sarchet is the Extension agent for Lewis and Clark County. Their effort is a three-year project being funded by a $128,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Day and Sarchet are developing a line of Plenty Coups trees. “In 2016, Day gave new shoots from the original trees to the owner of Canyonview Nursery in Corvallis,” which were grafted onto new rootstock. When they are big enough they will be sold. “One hundred trees that got their start in Chief Plenty Coups’ orchard will be available in the spring of 2019 to Montana nurseries that sell bare-root trees…”
Among the other orchards identified is one owned by John Ross near Fromberg, which boasts about 50 McIntosh and Wealthy apple trees planted in 1951. Red Lodge Ale in Red Lodge uses some of the apples in the production of apple cider.
Every other year, the Plenty Coups orchard produces Duchess apples, which are made into pies, slices for which are sold at “ungodly price”, which raise funds for the Friends of Chief Plenty Coups Association.
Read the entire article on line at http:// www.montana. edu/news/ mountainsandminds/ article.html?id =17327