When John Bunker first moved to Palermo 50 years ago, he was struck by the lack of street name signs in town.

“None of the roads had (name) signs, because after all, everybody knew what all the roads were,” said Bunker, Maine’s foremost apple historian, who also runs the orchard at Palermo’s Super Chilly Farm. “So I didn’t even know what road I lived on.”

Compounding the confusion, he recalled, was that segments of the same road sometimes had different names.

Palermo’s lack of formal street-naming conventions was interesting and a little confusing, but not alien to Bunker. Because before the 20th century, important information about each particular apple variety was often passed along by oral tradition. Unique varieties migrated from region to region along with the people who cherished those particular apples, sometimes getting renamed along the way without any documenting of the change.

“Those apples were like folks songs that traveled around and had different lyrics in different states,” Bunker said.

Since 2019, Bunker has been working with College of the Atlantic history professor Todd Little-Siebold, Laura Sieger, orchard manager for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and MOFGA intern Lydia Pendergast to collect samples from hundreds of Maine’s unidentified apple trees. They send the samples clear across the country to their partner in the project, Cameron Peace, a horticulture scientist at the University of Washington who runs tests to reveal the DNA.

Read more…