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the web of life in southern Africa

Malus domestica (Domestic Apple)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Order: Rosales > Family: Rosaceae

Wild apples were eaten by people from the earliest of times. The domestic apples we eat nowadays are thought to have been selectively bred from Malus sieversii although Malus sylvestris may also have contributed. New apple varieties are propagated by grafting, rather than from seed or from cuttings.


Malus domestica (apple)

Recent evidence suggests that the Domestic apple is derived mainly if not exclusively from Malus sieversii although Malus sylvestris may also have contributed. It is difficult to ascertain when domestication of apples began but apple remains in archaeological sites dating back to the Neolithic suggest that from the earliest times, apples were being harvested from the wild and eaten. Presumably apple trees started growing round habitations from discarded apple pips. However, the earliest evidence of apple domestication dates back to only the 10th Century BC from a site in Israel between Sinai and the Negev. This site is well outside the range of the wild apple species yet apple cores occur in large numbers suggesting apple trees were cultivated and probably irrigated as this region is so dry.

The first record of grafting of apple cultivars is from Greece in about 300 BC. The development of grafting techniques was important as apple plants do not root readily from cuttings. Grafting permitted favourable varieties to be propagated clonally which was important because the favourable characters would have been diluted by outcrossing if seeds were used. The rootstocks for grafts were usually seedlings of wild species. During the Middle Ages, peasants and monasteries produced many apple varieties and in the 1500's and 1600's rich people with large gardens cultivated numerous varieties. Many apple cultivars were developed in eastern North America, arising from different varieties of seed brought over by immigrants from various parts of Europe. For instance, the Golden Delicious arose from a chance seedling in 1900 in West Virginia. Apples are grown in temperate regions all over the World and some of the varieties were developed in Australia and New Zealand, the most conspicuous example being the Granny Smith apple that originated from a seedling in New South Wales (Australia) in 1868.



  • Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

Text by Hamish G. Robertson