Apple Blossoms

2020 May 31

Well, it is apple blossom time again. Here are some pictures I took last year (June 8, 2019), of a tree just downhill from our house that was was absolutely covered with blossoms[1]:


This is far from being our only apple tree[2], but last year it was probably the most picturesque one.


The bloom last for a little over a week, and the white petals make a clear target of the pollen and nectar producing portion to draw in the bees.


Bees and pollinating flies of all types love these, on warm days the apple trees can be heard kind of humming from all the insects flying into them. Once they get pollinated, they grow up to apples (obviously). You all know what apples look like, so I probably don’t need to go into that.

Anyway, apple blossoms are the State Flower for Michigan. Which seems weird at first, given that the domesticated apple is not native to North America. However, it turns out that the original legislation designating a state flower was pretty broad, and included all trees that are commonly referred to as “apples”, including the native crabapples, Malus coronaria. The various species all have similar blossoms, mainly varying in whether they are pure white, or include some shades of pink.

We have a couple of pear trees, too, and their blossoms look really similar to the apple blossoms.

[1] This year, the same tree has virtually no blossoms. If our apple trees are left to their own devices, not pruned or fertilized or anything, many of them will only have apples on alternate years.

[2] I have never made an accurate count of all the apple trees we have on our property, partly because there are a lot of them, partly because they are kind of intergrown together in some places, and partly because part of our property is a swamp that is hard to get into without getting stuck in the muck. When we bought the place, there were about five actual domesticated apples in the yard that were all that was left of an orchard that was probably planted close to 100 years ago. These trees were all extremely elderly and in terrible condition, and all but two of them have since died. We have planted about six more domesticated apple trees, which are just now getting big enough to have apples.

But, the vast majority of our apple production comes from a whole slew of feral trees, growing mostly around the edges of the swamp. You find a lot of feral apples in the hedgerows around old farm fields, and our property used to be a potato farm. What happens is, the farmer would take a few apples in his pocket when he went out to work in the field, and after eating them would throw the cores into the hedgerow (I know that farmers do this, because I used to do it myself when I was a kid on the farm). The seeds would then sprout, and since the hedgerows don’t get plowed, the apples trees come up and thrive. Apples that come up from seed are extremely variable. Some of the fruit comes out big and tasty, some of it comes out smaller and more tart, some mature early and make good applesauce, some mature very late and will keep through the winter, and some are little gnarly things that taste a lot like vinegar-soaked cotton and are practically inedible.

Most of our feral trees aren’t so great for eating out of hand, but what they are great for is making apple cider. This profusion of varied apples makes for an excellent flavor when they are all chopped up, blended together, and pressed for juice. Which is why I built a cider press some years ago that can squeeze about 3-4 bushels of apple mash at a time, and we got an apple-chopper that can chew up a bushel of apples to a pudding-like consistency in about 5 minutes.

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