Wild Apple Tree Information: Do Apple Trees Grow In The Wild
By: Teo Spengler
When out hiking in nature, you may come upon an apple tree growing far from the nearest home. It’s an unusual sight that mayraise questions for you about wild apples. Why do apple trees grow in the wild?What are wild apples? Are wild apple trees edible? Read on to get answers to thesequestions. We’ll give you wild apple tree information and provide an overviewof the different types of wild apple trees.
Do Apple Trees Grow in the Wild?
It is entirely possible to find an apple tree growing in themiddle of a forest or in another location some distance from a town orfarmhouse. It might be one of the original wild apple trees or it may insteadbe a descendent of a cultivated variety.
Are wild apple trees edible? Both types of wild apple treesare edible, but the cultivated tree descendent will likely produce larger,sweeter fruit. The fruit of a wild tree will be small and sour, yet veryattractive to wildlife.
What are Wild Apples?
Wild apples (or crapapples) are the original apple trees,bearing the scientific name Malus sieversii. They are the tree fromwhich all cultivated varieties of apple (Malus domestica) weredeveloped. Unlike cultivars, wild apples always grow from seed and each one isgenetically unique and potentially tougher and better adapted to localconditions than cultivars.
The wild trees are usually quite short and produce small,acidic fruit. The apples are devoured happily by bears, turkeys, and deer. Thefruit can be eaten by humans as well and is sweeter after it is cooked. Over300 species of caterpillars eat wild apple leaves, and that’s only countingthose in the northeast area of the U.S. Those caterpillars feed countless wildbirds.
Wild Apple Tree Information
Wild apple tree info tells us that although some of theapple trees growing in the middle of nowhere are, in fact, wild apple trees,others are cultivars planted at some point in the past by a human gardener. Forexample, if you find an apple tree along the edge of a rough field, it waslikely planted decades before when someone actually cultivated that field.
While generally native plants are better for wildlife thanintroduced cultivars from elsewhere, that is not the case with apple trees. Thetrees and their fruits are similar enough that wildlife will consume cultivatedapples as well.
You can assist wildlife by helping the tree grow strongerand more fruitful. How do you do that? Cut down nearby trees that block the sunfrom the apple tree. Trim back the apple tree branches to open up the center and allow the light in. Thetree will also appreciate a layer of compost or manure in springtime.
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Malus ( / ˈ m eɪ l ə s /  or / ˈ m æ l ə s / ) is a genus of about 30–55 species  of small deciduous trees or shrubs in the family Rosaceae, including the domesticated orchard apple (M. domestica syn. M. pumila) – also known as the eating apple, cooking apple, or culinary apple. The other species are commonly known as crabapples, crab apples, crabtrees, or wild apples.
The genus is native to the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere.
Henry David Thoreau online
by Henry D. Thoreau
THE HISTORY OF THE APPLE-TREE
It is remarkable how closely the history of the Apple-tree is connected with that of man. The geologist tells us that the order of the _Rosaceae_, which includes the Apple, also the true Grasses, and the _Labiatae_ or Mints, were introduced only a short time previous to the appearance of man on the globe.
It appears that apples made a part of the food of that unknown primitive people whose traces have lately been found at the bottom of the Swiss lakes, supposed to be older than the foundation of Rome, so old that they had no metallic implements. An entire black and shrivelled Crab-Apple has been recovered from their stores.
Tacitus says of the ancient Germans, that they satisfied their hunger with wild apples (_agrestia poma_) among other things.
Niebuhr observes that "the words for a house, a field, a plough, ploughing, wine, oil, milk, sheep, apples, and others relating to agriculture and the gentler way of life, agree in Latin and Greek, while the Latin words for all objects pertaining to war or the chase are utterly alien from the Greek." Thus the apple-tree may be considered a symbol of peace no less than the olive.
The apple was early so important, and generally distributed, that its name traced to its root in many languages signifies fruit in general. [Greek: Maelon], in Greek, means an apple, also the fruit of other trees, also a sheep and any cattle, and finally riches in general.
The apple-tree has been celebrated by the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and Scandinavians. Some have thought that the first human pair were tempted by its fruit. Goddesses are fabled to have contended for it, dragons were set to watch it, and heroes were employed to pluck it.
The tree is mentioned in at least three places in the Old Testament, and its fruit in two or three more. Solomon sings,--"As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons." And again,--"Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples." The noblest part of man's noblest feature is named from this fruit, "the apple of the eye."
The apple-tree is also mentioned by Homer and Herodotus. Ulysses saw in the glorious garden of Alcinous "pears and pomegranates, and apple-trees bearing beautiful fruit" (kai maeleui aglaokarpoi). And according to Homer, apples were among the fruits which Tantalus could not pluck, the wind ever blowing their boughs away from him. Theophrastus knew and described the apple-tree as a botanist.
According to the Prose Edda, "Iduna keeps in a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of to become young again. It is in this manner that they will be kept in renovated youth until Ragnaroek" (or the destruction of the gods).
I learn from Loudon that "the ancient Welsh bards were rewarded for excelling in song by the token of the apple-spray" and "in the Highlands of Scotland the apple-tree is the badge of the-clan Lamont."
The apple-tree (_Pyrus malus_) belongs chiefly to the northern temperate zone. Loudon says, that "it grows spontaneously in every part of Europe except the frigid zone, and throughout Western Asia, China, and Japan." We have also two or three varieties of the apple indigenous in North America.
Do you remember the story of Johnny Appleseed from grade school? It is more than just a story Johnny Appleseed was a real person named John Chapman, born in 1774. Legend has it that he spent years walking throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada randomly dropping apple seeds along the way. The truth is that he was a knowledgeable nurseryman and a noted conservationist.
Johnny Appleseed didn’t go around tossing apple seeds everywhere, he went around planting deliberate orchards. In the early 1800s, frontier law allowed people to claim land by developing a permanent homestead. One way to make a claim was by planting 50 apple trees. John Chapman did just that, planting apple seeds in orchards. Once planted, he put fences around the orchard and left a neighbor to care for it. He would return every couple years to check each orchard’s progress and when they were producing sufficiently, he sold the land. By the time of his death at age 70, he had covered 100,000 square miles and owned more than 1,200 acres of land.
The apples Johnny Appleseed planted were not the sweet eat-out-of-hand apples we look for today. They were small and tart, called “spitters” because that’s probably what you’d do if you took a bite of one. The apples he cultivated were mostly pressed to make hard cider and applejack. Unfortunately, when Prohibition came along in the 1920s, FBI agents took the ax to the majority of Johnny Appleseed’s apple trees. The last known apple tree to be planted by Johnny is 176 years old and still stands in Nova, Ohio. However, there are trees that have been grafted from his trees still growing throughout the area of his travels.
The apples we buy today in the grocery store and the apple tree saplings we obtain from nurseries are not grown from seed. They are the result of careful grafting of existing apple trees, forming clones that are genetically identical. Often, they’ve been grafted onto the roots of other types of apple trees to control how large they will grow.
There are still “wild” apple trees to be found in Wisconsin, along country roads, beside farm fields, at forest edges, along abandoned railroad tracks and in cemeteries. These apple trees may have grown on their own from seed and the size, flavor, ripening time and color are purely left to chance. Sometimes these apples aren’t the best tasting, but sometimes they rival the sweetest apples in the produce aisle. If you come across a wild apple tree, sample the fruit. If it’s awful, wait a few weeks and try again. Even though the apples appear ripe at first taste, they may not have been ready for harvest.
Since wild apple trees haven’t been doused with poison to control for insect pests and diseases, the apples may be wormy or misshapen. On the other hand, you may come upon a tree that is naturally resistant to insects and diseases and find a tree full of perfect, beautiful apples. You can always cut the bad parts out of less than perfect apples and use the good parts. You can’t beat free!
Wild apples can be used in all the same ways as commercial apples are used. Pies, cakes, apple slice, apple crisp, apple cake, apple Betty, applesauce, apple jelly, apple chutney, apple cider, apple wine . . . a truly versatile fruit. Like commercial apples, they can be frozen, canned or dried for long term storage.
Place apples in a large stockpot and add enough water cover by at least 2 inches. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Bring to a boil. Boil, uncovered, for 1 hour. Cover pot, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 hours. Strain apple mixture though a fine mesh sieve. Discard solids. Drain cider again though a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Refrigerate until cold.
8 c. thinly sliced peeled tart apples (8 medium)
Heat oven to 425ºF. Prepare double-crust pastry using your favorite pie crust recipe or purchase ready-to-use crusts.
Mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large bowl. Stir in apples. Turn into pastry-lined pie plate. Dot with butter. Trim overhanging edge of pastry 1/2 inch from rim of plate.
Lay top pastry over filling trim overhanging edge 1 inch from rim of plate. Fold and roll top edge under lower edge, pressing on rim to seal flute as desired. Use a fork to poke holes in the top crust so steam can escape. Cover edge with 3-inch wide strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning. Remove foil during last 15 minutes of baking.
Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust. Serve warm or cold.
For French Apple Pie: Use just one crust on bottom. Omit butter and top apple filling with crumb topping: Mix 1 c. flour, ½ c. firm butter, ½ c. brown sugar (packed) until crumbly. Bake 50 minutes. Cover entire topping with foil the last 15 minutes of baking if top browns too quickly.
6 large apples, peeled, cored and half-inch diced
1 c. freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
1 c. light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 t. whole dried mustard seeds
1/4 t. hot red pepper flakes
Combine everything except the raisins in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and add the raisins. Set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
4 c. sliced pared tart apples
2/3 to ¾ c. brown sugar (packed)
1/3 c. butter or margarine, softened
Place apple slices in greased 8x8x2 inch pan. Mix remaining ingredients thoroughly and sprinkle over apples. Bake at 375° until apples are tender and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream.
Exploring the history of the apple from its wild origins
The wild apples in the Tien Shan Mountains represent the main ancestral population for our modern apple. These trees produce large fruits, which are often red when ripe and have a varying array of flavors. These were the ancestors of the trees that people first started to cultivate and spread along the Silk Road. Credit: Prof. Dr. Martin R. Stuchtey
Recent archaeological finds of ancient preserved apple seeds across Europe and West Asia combined with historical, paleontological, and recently published genetic data are presenting a fascinating new narrative for one of our most familiar fruits. In this study, Robert Spengler of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History traces the history of the apple from its wild origins, noting that it was originally spread by ancient megafauna and later as a process of trade along the Silk Road. These processes allowed for the development of the varieties that we know today.
The apple is, arguably, the most familiar fruit in the world. It is grown in temperate environments around the globe and its history is deeply intertwined with humanity. Depictions of large red fruits in Classical art demonstrate that domesticated apples were present in southern Europe over two millennia ago, and ancient seeds from archaeological sites attest to the fact that people have been collecting wild apples across Europe and West Asia for more than ten thousand years. While it is clear that people have closely maintained wild apple populations for millennia, the process of domestication, or evolutionary change under human cultivation, in these trees is not clear.
Several recent genetic studies have demonstrated that the modern apple is a hybrid of at least four wild apple populations, and researchers have hypothesized that the Silk Road trade routes were responsible for bringing these fruits together and causing their hybridization. Archaeological remains of apples in the form of preserved seeds have been recovered from sites across Eurasia, and these discoveries support the idea that fruit and nut trees were among the commodities that moved on these early trade routes. Spengler recently summarized the archaeobotanical and historical evidence for cultivated crops on the Silk Road in a book titled Fruit from the Sands, published with the University of California Press. The apple holds a deep connection with the Silk Road—much of the genetic material for the modern apple originated at the heart of the ancient trade routes in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan. Furthermore, the process of exchange caused the hybridization events that gave rise to the large red sweet fruits in our produce markets.
Understanding how and when apple trees evolved to produce larger fruits is an important question for researchers, because fruit trees do not appear to have followed the same path towards domestication as other, better-understood crops, such as cereals or legumes. Many different wild and anthropogenic forces apply selective pressure on the crops in our fields, it is not always easy to reconstruct what pressures caused which evolutionary changes. Therefore, looking at evolutionary processing in modern and fossil plants can help scholars interpret the process of domestication. Fleshy sweet fruits evolve to attract animals to eat then and spread their seeds large fruits specifically evolve to attract large animals to disperse them.Horses eating wild apples in the Tien Shan Mountains. These domesticated horses demonstrate the process of seed dispersal that wild apple trees evolved to support millions of years ago, when large monogastric mammals such as these were prominent across Eurasia. Credit: Artur Stroscherer
Large fruits evolved to attract ancient megafauna
While most scholars studying domestication focus on the period when humans first start cultivating a plant, in this study Spengler explores the processes in the wild that set the stage for domestication. Spengler suggests that understanding the process of evolution of large fruits in the wild will help us understand the process of their domestication. "Seeing that fruits are evolutionary adaptations for seed dispersal, the key to understanding fruit evolution rests in understanding what animals were eating the fruits in the past," he explains.
Many fruiting plants in the apple family (Rosaceae) have small fruits, such as cherries, raspberries, and roses. These small fruits are easily swallowed by birds, which then disperse their seeds. However, certain trees in the family, such as apples, pears, quince, and peaches, evolved in the wild to be too large for a bird to disperse their seeds. Fossil and genetic evidence demonstrate that these large fruits evolved several million years before humans started cultivating them. So who did these large fruits evolve to attract?
The evidence suggests that large fruits are an evolutionary adaptation to attract large animals that can eat the fruits and spread the seeds. Certain large mammals, such as bears and domesticated horses, eat apples and spread the seeds today. However, prior to the end of the last Ice Age, there were many more large mammals on the European landscape, such as wild horses and large deer. Evidence suggests that seed dispersal in the large-fruiting wild relatives of the apple has been weak during the past ten thousand years, since many of these animals went extinct. The fact that wild apple populations appear to map over glacial refugial zones of the Ice Age further suggests that these plants have not been moving over long distances or colonizing new areas in the absence of their original seed-spreaders.
Trade along the Silk Road likely enabled the development of the apple we know today
Wild apple tree populations were isolated after the end of the last Ice Age, until humans started moving the fruits across Eurasia, in particular along the Silk Road. Once humans brought these tree lineages back into contact with each other again, bees and other pollinators did the rest of the work. The resulting hybrid offspring had larger fruits, a common result of hybridization. Humans noticed the larger fruiting trees and fixed this trait in place through grafting and by planting cuttings of the most favored trees. Thus, the apples we know today were primarily not developed through a long process of the selection and propagation of seeds from the most favored trees, but rather through hybridization and grafting. This process may have been relatively rapid and parts of it were likely unintentional. The fact that apple trees are hybrids and not "properly" domesticated is why we often end up with a crabapple tree when we plant an apple seed.
This study challenges the definition of "domestication"' and demonstrates that there is no one-shoe-fits-all model to explain plant evolution under human cultivation. For some plants, domestication took millennia of cultivation and human-induced selective pressure—for other plants, hybridization caused rapid morphological change. "The domestication process is not the same for all plants, and we still do not know much about the process in long-generation trees," notes Spengler. "It is important that we look past annual grasses, such as wheat and rice, when we study plant domestication. There are hundreds of other domesticated plants on the planet, many of which took different pathways toward domestication." Ultimately, the apple in your kitchen appears to owe its existence to extinct megafaunal browsers and Silk Road merchants.
Illustrations by Joseph Smith.
We’ve all seen it before: hidden in a thicket is a lone apple tree that hasn’t made more than a bushel of apples in the past 10 years. We know the deer, bears, turkeys, and partridges would like a little something to eat, but what to do?
First, we need to understand that wild apple trees are different from the cultivars (or named varieties) that we eat, such as Macintosh or Cortland. Cultivars are propagated by grafting twigs or buds from the known variety onto another tree or root stock. They are, for lack of a better term, genetic dead ends. A Macintosh tree planted today is genetically identical to a Macintosh tree planted in 1925. Wild apple trees, on the other hand, grow from seed, and every wild tree is a genetically unique apple that has the potential to be tougher and more adapted to local conditions than a cultivar introduced from somewhere else.
Second, consider that the goal of someone pruning for wildlife is different from that of a commercial grower, who wants high-quality fruit that looks appealing on the farmstand or in the grocery store. Animals aren’t concerned with how the fruit looks: if it is dimpled, or if it has worms, sooty blotch, or scab, that’s just fine. They just want lots and lots of it! Fruit is the objective.
Start with an evaluation of the tree. If the tree has not produced fruit in the past few years, your sweat equity will not change that, so move on to one that is known to produce at least some fruit. If more than half the canopy is made of live wood, then maximize the amount of sunlight available to the tree by removing the competing trees, especially to the south of it. This is called releasing the tree, and a healthy tree will often set more fruit just from a release. Apple trees need full sun to make plenty of fruit, so remove all other trees and shrubs back to the tree’s drip line.
The next step is reinvigorating the tree through pruning. Once you’ve given the tree some light, giving it a “haircut” will encourage vigorous new growth. Prune any dead wood, which you can do at any time. To minimize winter injury to the tree, prune live wood in late winter, after the chance of subzero weather has passed. Pruning reawakens the tree’s ability to draw nutrients from the soil, put out new growth, and, over time, grow more apples. Remove a third of the tree’s live wood to reinvigorate it. You can do this one limb at a time, removing smaller, less vigorous competing stems and leaders, or if you have a lot of trees to do, simply cut off the top third of the tree. Sound barbaric? Remember, we’re not looking for perfect orchard tree form – we want fruit, and lots of it. A tree grown from local seed is tougher than any cultivar you have in your orchard and will thrive from such treatment.
After you’ve pruned, give the tree some more nutrients if possible. Spreading manure and compost under trees adds to soil fertility. You can also use fertilizer formulated for fruit trees.
With this kind of attention to your trees, you’ll probably grow enough extra apples to attract some wild visitors and to make some cider for yourself.
Carl Demrow is a trail consultant and carpenter when he’s not busy tending his woodlot in Washington, Vermont.
© 2007 by the author this article may not be copied or reproduced without the author's consent.
Tags: pruning, wildli.