This article is about the fruit. For other meanings of the word, especially the computer company, see Apple (disambiguation)

Blooms of an apple tree.

Apples are the fruit (specifically a pome) of a tree of the genus Malus, which is a member of the Rose family (Rosaceae), and have been cultivated throughout recorded history. Most table apples are of the species M. domestica or hybrids of it.

The wild ancestor of the apple was probably a tree still found in Kazakhstan, Malus sieversii (which has no common name). Researchers are working with M. sieversii, which is resistant to many diseases and pests, in order to create a hardier domestic apple.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Apple Varieties
3 Growing Apples
4 Commerce
5 Uses
6 Cultural aspects
7 See also


Apples have been a very important food in all cooler climates. To a greater degree than other tree fruit, except possibly citrus, apples store for months while still retaining much of their nutitive value. Winter apples, picked in late fall and stored just above freezing in a cellar or "fruit room" have been an important food in Europe and the USA since the 1800s.

Apple Varieties

There are more than 7,500 known varieties of apples.

Among the most common commercial apple cultivars are the "Red Delicious", "Golden Delicious", "Winesap", "Jonathan", "Jonagold", "McIntosh", and "Gala". The "Granny Smith" is also somewhat popular, though tarter than the others; as such, it makes a good cooking apple. It is a light speckled green and is the apple used in the picture for the Apple label which produces CDs by The Beatles. Another noted variety, at least in Britain, is the "Cox's Orange Pippin". Fuji apples, which require a warmer climate, are popular for eating in Australia.

Tastes in apples vary from one person to another and have changed over time. Modern apples are, as a rule, sweeter than older varieties. To perhaps a greater degree than other produce, varieties are chosen for appearance, ease of shipping, ease of storage, ease of production, and acceptable flavor to the average person. Many unusual and locally important varieties with their own unique flavor and appearance are out there to discover.

Tart varieties of apples are cultivated specifically for use in the production of cider.

The Excelsior Experiment Station of the University of Minnesota has, since the 1930s, introduced a steady progression of important hardy apples that are widely grown, both commercially and by backyard orchardists, throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Its most important introductions have included Haralson, which is the most widely cultivated apple in Minnesota, Wealthy, Honeygold, and Honeycrisp.  The sweetness and texture of Honeycrisp have been so popular with consumers that Minnesota orchards have been cutting down their established, productive trees to make room for it, a heretofore unheard of practice.

Growing Apples

Starting an Orchard

Apple orchards are established by planting two or three year old trees. These small trees are usually purchased from a nursery where they are produced by grafting or budding. First, a rootstock is produced either as a seedling or cloned using tissue culture or layering. This is allowed to grow for a year. Then, a small section of branch called a scion is obtained from a mature apple tree of the desired variety. The upper stem and branches of the rootstock are cut away and replaced with the scion. In time, the two sections grow together and produce a healthy tree.

Rootstocks affect the ultimate size of the tree. While many rootstocks are available to commercial grower, those sold to homeowners who want just a few trees are usually one of two varieities: a standard seedling rootstock that gives a full-size tree, or a semi-dwarf rootstock that produces a somewhat smaller tree. Dwarf rootstocks are generally more susceptible to damage from wind and cold. Full dwarf trees are often supported of posts or trellises and planted in high density orchards which are much simpler to culture and greatly increase productivity per unit of land.

Some trees are produced with a dwarfing "interstem" between a standard rootstock and the tree, resulting in two grafts.

After the small tree is planted in the orchard, it must grow for 3-5 years (semi-dwarf) or 4-10 years (standard trees) before it will bear sizable amounts of fruit. Good training of limbs and careful nipping of buds growing in the wrong places, are extremely important during this time, to build a good scaffold that will later support a fruit load.


Apples are relatively indifferent to soil conditions and will grow in a wide range of pH values and fertility levels. They do require some protection from the wind and should not be planted in low areas that are prone to late spring frosts. Apples do require good drainage, and heavy soils or flat land should be tiled to make certain that the root systems are never in saturated soil.


Apples are self incompatible and must be cross pollinated. Pollination management is an important component of apple culture. Before planting, it is important to arrange for pollenizers - varieties of apple or crab apple that provide plentiful, viable and compatible pollen. Orchard blocks may alternate rows of compatible varieties, or may have periodic crab apple trees, or grafted-on limbs of crab apple. Some varieties produce very little pollen, or the pollen is sterile, so these are not good pollenizers. Quality nurseries have pollenizer compatibility lists.

Growers with old orchard blocks of single varieties sometimes provide bouquets of crab apple blossoms in drums or pails in the orchard for pollenizers. Home growers with a single tree, and no other variety in the neighborhood can do the same on a smaller scale.

During the bloom each season, apple growers usually provide pollinators to carry the pollen. Honeybee hives are most commonly used, and arrangements may be made with a commercial beekeeper who supplies hives for a fee. Orchard mason bees are also used as supplemental pollinators in commercial orchards. Home growers may find these more acceptable in suburban locations because they do not sting. Some wild bees such as carpenter bees and other solitary bees may help. Bumble bee queens are sometimes present in orchards, but not usually in enough quantity to be significant pollinators.

Symptoms of inadequate pollination are small and mishapen apples, and slowness to ripen. Count the seeds to evaluate pollination. Well pollinated apples are the best quality, and will have 7 to 10 seeds. Less than 3 seeds will usually not mature and will drop from the trees in the early summer. Inadequate pollination can result from either a lack of pollinators or pollenizers, or from poor pollinating weather at bloom time. It generally require multiple bee visits to deliver sufficient grains of pollen to accomplish complete pollination.

Frost During Bloom

A common problem is a late frost that destroys the delicate outer structures of the flower. It is best to plant apples on a slope for air drainage, but not on a south facing slope (in the northern hemisphere) as this will encourage early blooming and increase susceptibilty to frost. If the frost is not too severe, the tree can be wetted with water spray before the morning sun hits the blossoms, and it may save them. Frost damage can be evaluated 24 hours after the frost. If the pistil has turned black, the blossom is ruined and will not produce fruit.

Growing apples near a body of water gives an advantage by slowing spring warm up, which retards bloom until frost is less likely. Areas of the USA, such as the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, the southern shore of Lake Ontario, and around some smaller lakes, where this cooling effect of water, combined with good, well-drained soils, has made apple growing concentrations possible in these areas.

Home growers may not have a body of water to help, but can utilize north slopes or other geographical features to retard spring bloom. Apples (or any fruit) planted on a south facing slope in the US, will bloom early and be particularly vulnerable to spring frost.


Apples are prone to biennial bearing. If the fruit is not thinned when the tree carries a large crop, it may produce very little bloom the following year. Good thinning helps even out the cycle, so that a reasonable crop can be grown every year.


The trees are susceptible to a number of fungal and bacterial diseases and insect pests. Nearly all commercial orchards pursue an aggressive program of chemical sprays to maintain high fruit quality, tree health, and high yields. A trend in orchard management is the use of IPM or Integrated Pest Management, which reduces needless spraying when pests are not present, or more likely, are being controlled by natural controls.

Spraying for insect pests must never be done during bloom because it kills pollinators. Nor should bee-attractive plants be allowed to establish in the orchard floor if insecticides are used. Dutch white clover is a componant of many grass seed mixes, and many bees are poisoned while visiting the blossoms on the orchard floor.

Among the most serious disease problems are fireblight, a bacterial disease, and [[cedar-apple rust], apple scab, and black spot, two fungal diseases.

The plum curlico is the most serious insect pest. Others are apple maggot, and codling moth.

Apples are difficult to grow organically, though a few orchards have done so with commercial success, using disease-resistant varieties and the very best cultural controls. The latest tool in the organic repertoire is to spray a light coating of kaolin clay, which forms a physical barrier to some pests, and also helps prevent apple sun scald.


Most mature trees typically bear 5-10 bushels of apples each year. Apples are harvested using three-point ladders that are designed to fit amongst the branches. A few varieties, left unpruned, will grow to be extremely large, causing them to bear a great deal of fruit that it is almost impossible to harvest. Dwarf trees will bear about 3-5 bushels of fruit per year.

Varieties vary in their yield and the ultimate size of the tree, even when grown on the same rootstock.


45 million metric tons of apples were grown worldwide in 2002, with a value of about 10 billion USD. China produced almost half of this total. The United States is the second leading producer, accounting for 10% of world production. Turkey is also a leading producer. France, Italy, South Africa and Chile are among the leading apple exporters.

Today, more than half of all the apples sold commercially in the United States are grown in Washington state. This may change. Imported apples from New Zealand and other more temperate areas are competing with domestic production and increasing each year.


Apples can be canned, juiced, and/or fermented to produce apple juice, cider, vinegar, and pectin. Distilled, apple cider produces the spirits applejack and Calvados.

Apples are an important ingredient in many winter desserts, for example apple pie, apple crumble and apple cake. They are often eaten baked or stewed, and they can also be dried and eaten or re-consitituted (soaked in water, alcohol or some other liquid) for later use. Pureed 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.

Cultural aspects

Apples were very important in many ancient cultures, including Norse, Roman and Greek beliefs. See Pleiades and Idun for examples.

Although the "fruit" in the religious book of Genesis is not identified, the apple is mentioned in the Bible exactly ten times: in Deuteronomy, Psalms and Proverbs (originating the phrase "apple of your eye" in English); Song of Songs, Joel and Zechariah. The assumption that the fruit that Adam and Eve ate was an apple can probably be attributed to its portrayal in artistic renderings of the fall from Eden.

In some cultures, the apple is a symbol of immortality, love or sexuality. The Greek hero Heracles had to find the Hesperides' golden apples as one of his Twelve Labors. Another Greek mythological figure, Paris, had to give a golden apple (which came from the goddess of discord, Eris) to the most beautiful goddess, indirectly causing the Trojan War, while Atalanta was distracted during a race by three golden apples thrown for that purpose by a suitor, Hippomenes. In ancient Greece, throwing an apple at a person's bed was an invitation for sexual intercourse. Celtic mythology includes a story about Conle who receives an apple which feeds him for a year but also makes him irresistibly desire fairyland. Another story claims that if an apple is peeled into one continuous ribbon and thrown behind a woman's shoulder, it will land in the shape of the future husband's initials. Danish folklore says that apples wither around adulterers.

In some places, dunking for apples is a traditional Halloween activity; this derives from Druidic divination methods. Apples are said to increase a woman's chances of conception as well as remove birthmarks when rubbed on the skin. They are commonly considered healthy, leading to the proverb an apple a day keeps the doctor away. In the United States, an apple is a customary gift for a teacher.

See also

Food  |  List of fruits  |  List of vegetables