Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association

Featured Fruit: Apple

January 16, 2001

Apples are members of the rose family, or Rosaceae, and the genus Malus. The common wild apple of Europe and Asia is M. pumila. Other wild species are M. sylvestris (a wild crab), and M. baccata.  The Western Crabapple, M. fusca, grows wild on the Kenai Peninsula (rare) and along the coast of Southeastern Alaska down to California.  The science of apple growing is called pomology.

The apple probably originated in Central and Southwestern Asia.  These early apples were likely small and astringent like wild apples or crabapples.  The earliest writings of Egypt, Babylon, and China mention the apple.  Charred apples have been found in prehistoric dwellings in Switzerland.  Ancient writers such as Cato, Varo, Pliny and Palladius mentioned 26 different varieties of apples.  Apples were introduced to England during the Roman invasions in the first century BC.

Crabapples grew here in America before the pilgrims arrived, but the fruit was not very edible.  The Massachusetts Bay Colony requested seeds and cuttings from England, which were brought over on later voyages of the Mayflower.  John Chapman, of Massachusetts, grew famous for planting trees throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and became known as “Johnny Appleseed.”

Apples can be grown farther north than most other fruits because they blossom late in spring, reducing the likelihood of frost damage.  It takes 50 leaves to produce enough energy to grow one apple.  Apple trees take four to five years to produce their first fruit, and reach maximum productivity between 10 and 15 years of age.  Apple trees can reproduce by seeds, but domestic propagation is usually done by grafting, generally onto wild or propagated rootstock.