Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Season: Late Summer & Fall
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Apple trees (Malus domestica) are different from most plants in that seeds from one apple tree can produce trees with apples of different shapes, colors and tastes. When a tree is found that produces excellent apples, clones are made of that tree to keep the line going.
Most apple trees you run across that are not from orchards, or that have not been intentionally planted are from seed, and so, you never know what you are going to get. Some are bitter, some sweet, some tart, etc. You just have to taste an apple to see.
Watch out for worms, but other than that, try an apple from a tree to see if you like it. Ones that are tart, but not wormy are good for cooking. I have found the odd one that is sweet and worm free, but that is rare. I think birds and animals get to them first.
I knew a wild apple tree that was of medium size, and every year all the apples were worm free, and the tree was full of apples. Around that tree there were two other apple trees, one had sweet apples, and they were quickly taken by animals each year. The second one had apples that were tart but good, and had a decent crop on it most years, but after clearing off the sweet apples, animals made this tree their next target. But the apples from the tree covered with worm-free apples tasted like bitter soap. I tried one each year over three years, but every apple on that tree was the same. No wonder the worms and wildlife left that tree alone. To this day, it is one of the worst things I have ever tasted. Hard to believe it is basically the same tree as the one that grows apples like the Gala.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
Buy a tree that grows the type of apples you like - if you plant a seed, it is a genetic lottery, and you could get anything in the apple family - this plant is unusual for this genetic lottery trait, most plants produce offspring that resemble the parents. It may be OK, but the odds are, it won't be sweet and good. Best to stick to what the local nursery is selling with this tree. Also, from seed it will take longer to get fruit than from one of the modern cultivars. You need to maintain a regular program of pest control. Dormant oil is what I used when I had an apple tree in the city. If you do nothing, you might just get wormy apples. Also, if you live where there are raccoons (where isn't there now?), be prepared to have to come up with ingenious methods of keeping them away from the tree.
For detailed instructions on how to plant, grow and maintain an Apple tree, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden Apple Tree page.
- Plant Size: Tree
- Duration: Can live over 100 years
- Leaf Shape: Ovate
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: Alternate
- Leaf Size: Up to 7.5 cm (3 inches) long
- Leaf Margin: Serrated (saw toothed edge)
- Leaf Notes: Often asymmetrical base of the leaf where it meets the stem. Colour is dark green. The leaf margins are bent upwards as well as serrated (sawtooth).
- Flowers: Five petalled, white to pink. 3 to 4 cm (1.1/5 to 1 3/5 inches) diameter, Inflorescence (cluster) of 4 to 6 flowers
- Fruit: Variable in size and color, red, green, yellow & mixes of those colors. From golf ball sized to 10 cm (4 inches) in rare cases
- Bark: Young branches or trunk can be smooth with dots or horizontal checking, grey to reddish grey to sometimes a faint purplish hue. Older trunks are scaly, with flaking of scales. Medium age trunks can be a mix - smoother sections and scaly areas.
- Habitat: Very adaptable to a wide range of habitats. Does not grow in dark shade or constantly wet ground like shallow marshes.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
A wild apple tree found on the edge of a woods. The apples from this tree were small but beautiful looking and sweet tasting - a really nice find.
This is a close up of Wild Apples on the tree from the picture above.
This is some of the harvest from this tree in my hand. These were fantastic apples even though they were very small in size.
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