Latin Name: Malus domestica (wild apple is Malus sieversii)
Botanical Family: Rosaceae (the rose family, which contains garden roses, and other fruits such as apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, pears, raspberries, and strawberries, almonds)
Description: The apple is the pomaceous fruit of the apple tree, It is one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits, and the most widely known of the many members of genus Malus that are used by humans. Apples grow on small, deciduous trees. The apple forms a tree that is 10 to 40 ft tall, with a broad, often densely twiggy crown. The leaves are alternately-arranged simple 1-3 inches broad on a 1- 2 inch petiole with a serrated margin and a slightly downy underside. Blossoms are produced in spring simultaneously with the budding of the leaves. The flowers have five petals and are white with a pink tinge that gradually fades. The fruit matures in late summer to autumn. The center of the fruit contains five carpels arranged in a five-point star, each carpel containing one to three seeds, called pips.
Origin and History: The tree originated in Western Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples. At one point, the word “apple” was a generic term that meant fruit.
The center of diversity of the genus Malus is in eastern Turkey. The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated, and its fruits have been improved through selection over thousands of years. Alexander the Great is credited with finding dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan in Asia in 328. Those he brought back to Macedonia might have been the progenitors of dwarfing root stocks. Apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, and were brought to North America by European colonists in the 17th century.
The first apple orchard on the North American continent was planted in Boston by Reverend William Blaxton in 1625. An 1845 United States apples nursery catalogue sold 350 of the “best” varieties, showing the proliferation of new North American varieties by the early 19th century.
Cultivation (how and where grown): About 69 million tons of apples were grown worldwide in 2010, and China produced almost half of this total. The United States is the second-leading producer, with more than 6% of world production. In the United States, more than 60% of all the apples sold commercially are grown in Washington state. Michigan is the third largest producer of apples and apples are Michigan’s largest fruit crop. Red Delicious is the most common cultivar produced though there is a popular movement to preserve antique apple varieties.
Apples are grown in orchards in a wide variety of climates from Egypt to England. Trees begin to produce after the fourth year after planting. Trees are prone to a number of fungal, bacterial and pest problems, which can be controlled by a number of organic and non-organic means.
Apples do not breed true from seed so all domestic apples are propagated asexually by grafting, although wild apples grow readily from seed.
Rootstocks are used to control tree size and have been used in apple cultivation for over 2,000 years. Farmers often graft varieties onto dwarf apple rootstock to keep trees small and easier to pick different and to provide certain disease resistance.
Apples are self-incompatible; they must cross-pollinate to develop fruit. During the flowering each season, apple growers usually provide pollinators to carry the pollen. Honey bees are most commonly used. Not all apples can cross-pollinate – there are four to seven pollination groups depending on climate.
Apples are pruned during the growing season for healthy shape, sunlight penetration and branch orientation. Apples only develop on horizontal branches – they are pruned to remove non-fruiting branches.
Apple crops ripen at different times of the year according to the variety of apple, starting in late summer and ending in late autumn. Mature trees typically bear 88–440 lbs of apples each year, though productivity can be close to zero in poor years. Dwarf trees will bear about 22–180 lbs. of fruit per year.
Apples are harvested using three-point ladders that are designed to fit amongst the branches. They have to be hand- picked to avoid bruising.
Until the 20th century, farmers stored apples in frostproof cellars during the winter for their own use or for sale. Improved transportation of fresh apples by train and road replaced the necessity for storage.
In the 21st century, long-term storage again came into popularity, as “controlled atmosphere” facilities were used to keep apples fresh year-round. Controlled atmosphere facilities are used to delay ethylene-induced onset of ripening. Ethylene is a gas produced by apples as they ripen. Controlled atmosphere storage uses high humidity, low oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and high air filtration to maintain fruit freshness. The air filtration prevents ethylene concentrations from rising to higher amounts and preventing ripening from moving too quickly. Ripening continues when the fruit is removed.
Fun Facts: Nature’s toothbrush! Eating an apple cleans your teeth. The only apples native to the United States are crabapples. Apples are produced on family farms – there are over 950 family farm orchards in Michigan. October is National Apple Month. October is Cider Month in Michigan.
Nutrition: Apples are a good source for dietary fiber and antioxidants. It is an important source of potasium. See medical uses.
Culinary Uses: Most of these cultivars are bred for eating fresh (dessert apples), though some are cultivated specifically for cooking (cooking apples) or producing cider. Cider apples are typically too tart and astringent to eat fresh, but they give the beverage a rich flavor that dessert apples cannot.
Winter apples, picked in late autumn and stored just above freezing, have been an important food in Asia and Europe for millennia, as well as in Argentina and in the United States since the arrival of Europeans.
Commercially popular apple cultivars are soft but crisp. Modern apples are generally sweeter than older cultivars, as popular tastes in apples have varied over time. Most North Americans and Europeans favor sweet, low acid apples, but tart apples have a strong minority following. Extremely sweet apples with barely any acid flavor are popular in Asia and especially India.
Apples can be canned or juiced. They are milled to produce apple cider (non-alcoholic, sweet cider) and filtered for apple juice. The juice can be fermented to make cider (alcoholic, hard cider),ciderkin, and vinegar. Through distillation, various alcoholic beverages can be produced, such as applejack, Calvados, and apfelwein. Pectin and apple seed oil may also be produced.
Apples are an important ingredient in many desserts, such as apple pie, apple crumble, apple crisp and apple cake. They are often eaten baked or stewed, and they can also be dried and eaten or reconstituted (soaked in water, alcohol or some other liquid) for later use. Puréed apples are generally known as apple sauce. Apples are also made into apple butter and apple jelly. They are also used (cooked) in meat dishes. In the UK, a toffee apple is a traditional confection made by coating an apple in hot toffee and allowing it to cool. Similar treats in the US are candy apples (coated in a hard shell of crystallized sugar syrup), and caramel apples, coated with cooled caramel. Apples are eaten with honey at the Jewish
New Year of Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a sweet new year. Farms with apple orchards may open them to the public, so consumers may themselves pick the apples they will buy.
Medicinal Uses: Research suggests that apples may reduce the risk of colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer. Compared to many other fruits and vegetables, apples contain relatively low amounts of vitamin C, but are a rich source of other antioxidant compounds. Apple’s antioxidant property prevents the damage to cells and tissues. The fiber content, while less than in most other fruits, helps regulate bowel movements and may thus reduce the risk of colon cancer. They may also help with heart disease, weight loss, and controlling cholesterol. The fiber contained in apples reduces cholesterol by preventing reabsorption, and (like most fruits and vegetables) they are bulky for their caloric content.
There is evidence from laboratory experiments that apples possess phenolic compounds which may be cancer-protective and demonstrate antioxidant activity.
Apple juice concentrate has been found to increase the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in mice, providing a potential mechanism for the “prevention of the decline in cognitive performance that accompanies dietary and genetic deficiencies and aging.” Other studies have shown an “alleviation of oxidative damage and cognitive decline” in mice after the administration of apple juice. Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong discovered that fruit flies who were fed an apple extract lived 10% longer than other flies who were fed a normal diet.
Apples help maintain stable, normal blood sugar levels – sugar is released slowly over time which helps with fatigue and concentration.
Impact on Culture: In popular culture the term “you are the apple of my eye” means that someone is favored and loved. Another expression of popular culture refers to the health benefits of eating apples – “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
The apple appears the mythology of cultures all over the world. In German paganism, apples symbolized youth. In Norse mythology it symbolized love and fertility. In Greek myth, it symbolized love and favor – giving of a golden apple to Aphrodite was the basis for the famous Trojan War. In the Christianity, the apple is often portrayed as the forbidden fruit that Adam ate and was cast out of Eden. Sir Isaac Newton is said to have discovered gravity and postulated the motion of the planets through inspiration of having an apple fall on his head. In America, we have the story of Johnny Appleseed who spread apples across the Midwest.
Appearance in Literature: The fairy tale of Snow White features the poison apple. The apple is also featured in many Greek myths.
Nestled behind the Traverse Area District Library’s Main Branch on Woodmere is a magical children’s garden. The garden was established in 1999 and is an incredible place for both children and adults. If you have never been to the garden, please give yourself a gift and visit.
The garden has many facets: A sundial garden, sculpture and rose garden, pond garden, bird and butterfly garden, willow house, scent and touch garden, moon garden, and the learning gardens. The learning gardens include the pavilion, greenhouse and outdoor clay pizza oven. The gardens contain lovely little mosaic tiles and sculptures. My particular favorite is the big metal spider.
The scent and touch garden overflows with various herbs. Even seasoned gardeners won’t be able to resist rubbing a leaf and taking a sniff. Imagine how adults and children who have never been exposed to these plant-miracles feel when they take their first sniff.
Susan Kuschell is the director of the garden and is an extraordinary lady. When touring the garden a couple of weeks ago we saw a couple of moms and their children having lunch in the willow house. It was a thrill for us both.
Give yourself a lovely gift and stop by the beautiful Traverse City District Library Children’s Garden. Walk through and admire the plants and sculptures. Even though it is autumn they are still beautiful. Sit down on one of the benches or really channel your inner child and step into the boat over the pond. Most of all…just enjoy and remember why you love to garden.