RSPB Scotland's Jenny Tweedie shares five facts about amazing and autumnal apples.
Five facts to know about apples
Apple season is upon us. Whether you’re dooking for them, or sticking them in a crumble, they remain one of our most popular fruits. But apples and the trees they come from, also have a fascinating story to tell.
Rick Worrell standing with an apple tree
Our modern eating apples are descended from both wild native crab apples – the small hard fruits you find growing in hedgerows – and sweet apples found in Eastern Asia (China, Kazakhstan etc). Over thousands of years, the Asian sweet apples moved westwards via trade until they met and hybridised with European crab apples. These hybrids are far more appetising than our wild crab apples, which are very tart, and eventually became the domestic (eating) apples that are now grown the world over
Apple trees like to mix things up when they’re reproducing, and hybridise very easily. This means that if you plant a seed from a Pink Lady or a Cox, the tree that grows from it is very unlikely to produce the same type of apples – in fact all commercial varieties are grown from grafts taken from parent trees, and not from seeds at all. Wild apples have the same tendencies, and often become hybrids with cultivated varieties, meaning that true native crab apple trees are actually becoming very rare. In fact, recent research has shown that across Scotland, between 30-50% of wild apple trees are hybrids between wild (crab) apples and domestic apples.
In some remoter parts of Scotland, however, such as Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, Galloway, and Highland Perthshire, pure wild apple trees are surviving, particularly in areas of native or semi-native oak and birch woodland. Three RSPB Scotland reserves, the Wood of Cree, Inversnaid and the Crook of Baldoon, have been found to hold good examples of these trees. They’re often not the spindly little specimens seen in hedgerows either, with some individuals measuring in at a whopping 14m tall and with trunks up to a metre in diameter
Robin perches beside some apples (rspb-images.com)
Wild apples trees produce prolific flowers in spring, and are a key food source for pollinating insects like bees. If you plant a crab apple or cultivated apple variety in your garden, it will help pollinators at this crucial time of year when nectar can be in short supply.
During the autumn, apple trees provide a food bonanza for people and for wildlife! Both wild apples and cultivated varieties become food for a whole range of mammals, birds and insects, from voles and hedgehogs through to blackbirds, waxwings and even butterflies. If you don’t have a garden with an apple tree, you can still put out halved or whole apples for your local wildlife to enjoy.
A study on native crab apple trees has been carried out by Dr Rick Worrell, forestry consultant, together with researchers from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, with funders including the RSPB supported Sustainable Forestry. You can read the full report here: http://www.futurewoodlands.org.uk/assets/downloads/Ecology-and-Genetics-of-Scotlands-Native-Wild-Apple-FINAL-REPORT-251018.pdf
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