Origin History of Apple Trees

From the Garden of Eden, to the logos on our iPhones, apples have followed us throughout history and mythology. Although to clarify, the book of Genesis never specified if the forbidden fruit was actually an apple. When you decide to grow and search for apple tree, you continue the relationship people have maintained with these clever apples for thousands of years. So knowing the history of apple trees can shed more light on these sun-loving trees. The apple tree (malus sieversii) originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan and spread through the Silk Road to Europe through the Caucasus. Even then apple tree growers knew how to graft and domesticate the wild apple tree (about 4000-10,000 years ago).

Central Tian Shan mountain range in Kazakhstan, the origin place of the apple tree. 

Mythology of Apples

Consequently, apple trees spread in popularity and became part of many cultures’ mythologies. For example, in Norse mythology apples gave immortality to the gods and in Greek mythology the apple was considered sacred to Aphrodite. So when you gave an apple to someone, you declared your love to them. This may be an interesting thing to try with your own apples!

‘Idun and the Apples’, 1890. Idun is the keeper of apples that give the gods eternal youth. Illustration from “Teutonic Myths and Legends” by Donald A Mackenzie, 1890.

How Apple Trees Spread in North America

When the Puritans brought the apple seeds to Massachusetts, they, in addition to John Chapman – a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed, helped spread and cultivate many different apple varieties, including Newtown Pippin. However many of these apples were so sour that colonists used them mainly for cider. Today, many people often know only the common varieties such as McIntosh and Red Delicious to name a few. Since these apples are so genetically uniform, pests and diseases often attack them which has led to the creation of other disease resistant varieties such as Enterprise.

Currently, about 2500 varieties of apple live in the 50 acre orchard that is located on the campus of Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station and maintained by the Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU). In fact this is the largest apple tree collection in the world! As our journey with these clever and multifaceted trees continue, who knows what new varieties we will be able to meet in the future.

References

Colleary, Eric. “Apples in America: A Very Brief History.” The American Table, 15 May 2014, www.americantable.org/2011/10/apples-in-america/.

Phil, Photograph by, et al. “The History of the ‘Forbidden’ Fruit.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 23 Jan. 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/food/the-plate/2014/07/22/history-of-apples/.