Every tree and every shrub flowers and fruits in some way. It's the natural way of propagation. All of our rich diverse fruits, nuts and all edibles we use have been provided by nature originally, in some form, and it is usually after cultivation and selection that we end up with an acceptable food. With this in mind there should not be anyone more conservation-aware than members of the Rare Fruit Council.
Each time another species becomes extinct, we lose the possibility, however remote, of botanists someday developing a plant that is directly useful to man in our lifestyle. We already know that some of the fruits that we are now growing and enjoying were reduced to extremely small surviving populations before they were rescued from complete eradication. Being reduced to small populations limits the gene pool of each specie that can be used to improve the survivors, thus depriving us of the full potential that may have existed in a larger population of the same species.
There have been reports of some extremely good fruits that are now extinct, usually from local natives in an area. The natives accepted the fruit without realising the limits of its growing area and when large-scale clearing occurred, all were lost. Science has still not even investigated ten percent of our trees alone, much less even of our other flora, not only for their fruits but for fibre, medicines, solvents, gums, resins, timbers, industrial uses. Science accepts that the cure for most now-incurable diseases and conditions including cancers will be found in flora. Yet plants are becoming extinct at an accelerating rate.
Australia, a relatively unsettled country, has had over 70 major known trees go extinct since European settlement, with over 400 declared endangered. Most are still uncatalogued which are in danger, if not extinct. Large-scale clearing that is occurring in tropical rainforests of Asia, the Americas, Africa and our own (we have something like one percent of our lowland rainforests left after 200 years settlement, and still more is being cleared) is causing the loss of some potentially fine fruits and nuts.
When it is realised how insignificant and miserably sour or tasteless some of our common fruits were in their natural state before selection began - apples, citrus, cherries, corn, pineapples, - actually very few were edible in their wild state. I wonder if olives could have been worse.
The cultivation and selection of some of these already reasonably edible, rarer fruits could lead to remarkably good selections in the future - there could be possibilities and uses to develop which we could not even contemplate. Not only trees are involved, but shrubs, grasses, legumes, palms, bamboos, are in danger. In fact any extinction of fauna or flora makes this a poorer world in which we live, and limits our chance of some exciting fruitful discoveries. Can you imagine a world without succulent mangos? Lousy, eh! Nothing resembles that flavour. Bananas? No one could copy them and yet once they were miserable inedibles.
Yes, conservation is very very practical and no one should be more aware than you - The Rare Fruit Council.
DATE: November 1986
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