Apples (Malus spp.) are indigenous to Kazakhstan, and are now grown around the globe as the world's most ubiquitous and beloved fruit for fresh eating, cooking, preserving and baking. Over 2,500 varieties of apple are grown in North America, from small, sour crabapples to treasured heirloom storage types to the popular commercial supermarket and lunchbox selections. Most North American apple varieties are aesthetically attractive as well as hardy and productive.
Crabapples are also referred to as wild apples. Experts disagree as to the origination of crabapples: The University of Illinois Extension states that crabapples are indigenous to North America, while Cornell University and other authoritative sources say all apples came from Kazakhstan, with crabapples being the descendants of the earliest seed-grown apples planted by early European settlers in North America.
Hundreds of varieties of crabapple are grown in North America, most primarily for their profusion of pink spring flowers and tidy small-tree shape in landscaping designs, rather than for their small, sour fruit. The fruit is edible, however, and usually used in jams and preserves. Popular landscaping varieties include Malus "Adams" and Malus "Evelyn," both of which have pale pink flowers; Malus "Snowdrift" with a profusion of small white flowers; and Malus "Harvest Gold," which produces yellow crabapples.
Apple trees do not reproduce true from seed, so most apple trees are grown from scions, or branches cut from a desirable tree, grafted onto a sturdy root and trunk stock. According to the Washington State Clark County Extension, many hundreds of varieties of apple trees were available from commercial nurseries in the 1800s; today, there are less than 50. However, heirloom apple varieties are still available from orchardists and hobbyists who strive to maintain their favorite heirloom selections. In northwestern North America, heirloom apples include Jonathan, a tasty early ripener; Hidden Rose, with pink flesh as well as skin; and Sierra Beauty, which successfully stores over the winter.
In northeast North America, hundreds of heirloom apples are still grown on lands settled by the earliest colonists. According to materials published by Ithaca College, these varieties include: Greening, a large tart yellow-green apple used for pies; Baldwin, a red-over-yellow apple with a balanced sweet-tart flavor for all-around use; and the Summer Rambo, a sweet, very early apple used mostly for fresh eating before the fall storage apples ripen.
Commercial Production Apples
A limited number of apple varieties comprise the core of commercial apple production in North America. The Golden Delicious apple is one of the most popular lunch box apples; Cornell University advises that with intensive management, this apple can produce over 900 bushels per acre. The University of Illinois Extension reports that the Red Delicious is the most widely grown apple in the United States.
The McIntosh is a small, round, red-over-green apple. Although it quickly turns mealy in storage, it is one of the most popular applesauce and baking apples in North America. The Granny Smith, a spring-green apple with greenish-white flesh, is another common North American baking apple.