New Hope for Efforts to Save Vavilov’s Priceless Plant Legacy
In the early 20th century, Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov created a preserve outside St. Petersburg that today contains one of the world’s largest collections of rare seeds and crops. Now, scientists and conservationists are waging an international campaign to save the reserve’s fields from being bulldozed for housing development.
In 1929, Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov traveled to Central Asia on one of the many seed-collecting expeditions that took him to five continents over more than two decades. In what is now present-day Kazakhstan, Vavilov — the father of modern seed banks — found forests of wild fruits and numerous cultivated varieties. Around the city of Alma Ata, he was astonished by the profusion of apple trees, writing in his journal that he believed he had “stumbled upon the center of origin for the apple, where wild apples were difficult to even distinguish from those which were being cultivated.”
Correctly surmising that this region of Kazakhstan was “the chief home of European fruit trees,” Vavilov collected the seeds of the many varieties of apple and other trees, eventually hauling them back to his scientific base in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.