Wild apple trees are an integral part of our landscape and have my attention throughout most of the year. Naturalized in the wild from the cultivated, domestic apple, they are found just about everywhere there is sufficient light – forest edges, abandoned fields, old farm sites, roadsides and lawns. Wild apple trees are prized for their contributions to the landscape and wildlife habitat. I follow the bloom in mid-May and have spent hours watching deer, cottontail rabbits, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse and squirrels feast on apples or apple seeds in late summer, fall and winter. Naturalized trees originating from seed are a diverse group, with many varieties that show significant differences in blooming and fruiting habits. One wild tree, which I have grafted for wildlife habitat plantings, has a hard, green, sour fruit that is very persistent. Several years ago I watched several wild turkeys feeding on the rotten, partially frozen apples, still on the tree in early March.
A wild apple tree in an agricultural area
Insects too are part of the story, especially at apple blossom time. Many species of bees, wasps, butterflies and other invertebrates work the flowers for their nectar. Migrating songbirds may, in turn, be seen foraging among the flowers, feeding on the insect pollinators.
A butterfly (one of the “Blues”) on an apple blossom
Blue-winged Warbler in a wild apple tree
In a naturalist’s world, non-native plants rarely receive the attention and praise given the wild apple trees. Although the Crabapple is the only apple tree native to the U.S., the domestic apple and its wild relatives have been established in the U.S. for three and a half centuries, perhaps earning the right to be treated as a native! Originally from Central Asia, the domestic apple was cultivated for hundreds of years in Europe and Asia before European colonists brought plants to the New World in the 17th century. An American Folk hero, John Chapman (a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed) helped establish the domestic apple as a household word and dietary staple in pioneer culture. Circa 1800, he was walking, preaching and planting his way around Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere in the frontier. He established apple orchards from seed collected at cider mills and even revisited the plots to insure survival. Since he didn’t use grafted trees, his apples were reportedly hard and sour, characteristics that pioneers favored for the making of hard cider!
A commercial orchard of Domestic Apple trees, intensively pruned and managed
The wild apple tree bloom was lost to frost in 2012. This year I was determined to track and capture the bloom, come hell or high water. The first flower buds opened about a week ago and now the bloom is peaking and as beautiful as ever (16May2013). Four days ago I was certain 2013 would be a repeat of 2012. Snow flurries, a mild frost, rain, overcast skies and gusty winds, in that order, threatened to ravage the bloom, the insect pollinators that ultimately make it successful, and my attempts to capture some good images Incredibly, everything seems OK, and I got my photos. Aside from the one photo of a commercial apple orchard, all images are from wild apple trees in natural settings.
Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.