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The Riverton-based Open Orchard Project has spent the past decade collecting heritage apple grafting stock from trees across the southern South Island and, more recently, began establishing orchards with the resulting trees.
Project co-ordinator Robyn Guyton said she was now working with the Owaka Going Forward community group to establish an orchard in the Catlins town, after a first South Otago orchard was planted in Kaitangata in September.
"Our funding allows us to donate the trees themselves. All we need are enthusiastic local people with spades, a space, and transport for the trees, and we’re able to spread the benefit of these ancient and delicious varieties throughout the region," she said.
Owaka Going Forward chairwoman Aileen Clarke said the group was excited to have identified and secured a civic space that could be dedicated to the trees, for a long-term "orchard park".
"This is a piece of council land unsuitable for subdivision due to its swampy nature, but which, with a bit of tidying up and careful planting, will be perfect for our community orchard and recreational space."
The approximately 30 trees to be planted on the 0.5ha site, backing the town’s stockyards, had all been grafted from early trees discovered in the Catlins, she said.
"What we’re looking for now are passionate volunteers who can see the magic in this project, and would like to get behind us with resources or elbow grease."
Mrs Guyton said the wider project had attracted international attention, not least from commercial apple growers.
"The value of these heritage varieties in terms of flavour and disease-resistance is starting to be appreciated more and more by growers. But their historical value - in terms of preserving varieties that came over here as prime stock in the mid-19th century - is also a big motivation for us."
During the project, more than 700 varieties ranging from the 1600s to the 1900s had been rediscovered "next to farmhouses and by roadsides", many of which were still to be named.
Mystery varieties were gradually being identified with the help of DNA testing in the UK, she said.
A named variety returning to the Owaka orchard would be "Reinette du Canada", dating from 1770, and known as the "pippin of France".
"There are just so many exciting discoveries still to be made."