When you put a red apple in your child's lunchbox, peel green apples for a pie or eat a bowl of applesauce, you are enjoying Malus domestica. This is the scientific name for edible apples (Malus x domestica), and there are many of them. Around 7,500 varieties of apples are grown worldwide, and in the United States about 2,500 varieties are cultivated. Apples are eaten fresh, canned, frozen, dried and made into baked goods, applesauce, juice and cider.
Apples originated in central Asia, where different species of wild apples (Malus spp.) grow. The center of domesticated apple origin is thought to be Kazakstan in an area between the Caspian and Black seas. Apples spread from there with Bronze Age merchants who traveled on the great trade routes between central China to the Danube area of Europe. Romans spread apples throughout the Roman Empire. Apples came to North America with the pilgrims who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Apples now grow throughout the world. The world's top apple producers are China, the United States, Turkey, Poland and Italy.
Many varieties of apples have been created through the ages. When America was settled, European apples with complex tastes and aromas came with them. Some tasted like bananas, others like pineapples. As farmers grew seedling apple trees, new varieties were found. Clarke Canfield reports in a 2011 "Huffington Post" article that an estimated 15,000 or more apple varieties have historically been named and grown in North America. These old-time apples are termed heirlooms. Many varieties are now extinct but efforts are under way to find and perpetuate heirloom apples.
Modern apple varieties date back to the development of the refrigerated railroad car in the mid to late 1800s to transport fruit to market. Plant breeders developed new apple varieties that withstood the rigors of mass shipment well, so flavorful heirlooms took a back seat. Modern apples were also bred for greater eye appeal than many of the heirlooms, which had greenish, russetted skin instead of glossy red colors. "Red Delicious" (Malus x domestica "Red Delicious") is the most widely grown modern apple cultivar grown in the U.S. It is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9.
Apple trees usually come as grafted or budded trees rather than seedlings. This ensures the exact reproduction of the particular cultivar. Rootstocks are chosen to give dwarf, semidwarf or standard growth habits to the trees. For home orchards, dwarf and semidwarf varieties are the usual choice. Plant dormant bare-root trees in late winter or early spring. Choose cultivars that suit your USDA zone. For an extended apple harvest, put in several varieties that bear early, midseason and late. With the large number of cultivars to choose from, there are apples adapted to grow in nearly every USDA hardiness zone. Most apples do well in USDA zones 5 through 7, with a more limited number that withstand USDA zones 2 through 4. Several low-chill varieties such as "Anna" and "Dorsett Golden" are suited to USDA zones 8 through 10.
- University of Illinois Extension: Apples and More
- Trends in Genetics: Genetic Clues to the Origin of the Apple
- Organic Gardening: Heirloom Apples
- Huffington Post: Heirloom Apples Are Back In Fashion
- The Heirloom Orchardist: Heirloom Plants and Gardens FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)
- Monrovia: Red Delicious Apple
- National Gardening Association: Choosing Apple Varieties
- University of California Cooperative Extension: Low-Chill Apples
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