Apples have held a place in Greek mythology and Christian lore, albeit falsely in the latter case. They are credited with helping Isaac Newton come up with the law of gravity. It may be hard to think of another fruit that has made a larger impact on the world as a whole than the apple. The history of apple trees is a long and varied one, full of facts and myths.
The apple tree received its start somewhere before 8000 B.C. At this time, evidence of apples exists around the region of the Fertile Crescent, a particularly fertile area from the Nile River, up the eastern Mediterranean to the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys. It is thought the apples then expanded their reach through trade in the region, eventually making it to all the corners of the known world.
Though apples were considered trade items, the first evidence of a commercial venture into apples is traced to a Chinese man, Feng Li, sometime near 5000 B.C. Feng was actually a Chinese diplomat who became so consumed with grafting fruit trees of all different varieties, including the apple, that he quit his job as a diplomat to work with his trees full time.
Throughout the years, hybridization of apples has helped to expand the varieties available to consumers. In 1790, Englishman Thomas Andrew Knight began an apple hybridization program, which continued throughout the 1800s and 1900s. In the 1800s, for example, the McIntosh and red delicious, two common varieties, were cultivated within 10 years of each other. The McIntosh was cultivated in Canada and the red delicious in Iowa.
Most work done with apples now focuses on making them more disease and pest resistant. Though new cultivars will likely continue to be created, the emphasis is on finding ways to limit the pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals that must be used to provide a harvest of apples. Though some success in cultivating disease-resistant varieties has been seen, these have yet to reach a wide commercial market.
Apples fell out of favor at the beginning of the Renaissance period, with "The Fall of Man," a painting by Hugo van der Goes made in 1740. That painting depicted an apple tree in the center of the Garden of Eden, which is an inaccuracy in the biblical account of the tree. In actuality, the Bible does not provide the name of any fruit tree currently known to exist but calls the tree the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.