From prehistoric times the apple has been a leading cultivated fruit of the temperate zones. Poets and writers have sounded its praises, and it is mingled with the mythology of about all parts of Europe and Asia. The common statement and belief as to its origin agrees with that of Professor Bailey, who says: " The apple has come from two original stems. All the common apples are modifications of Pyrus malus, a low, round-headed tree with thick and fuzzy irregularly dentate short-stemmed leaves and fairly compact clusters of woolly-stemmed flowers. The crab-apples are derived from Pyrus baccata, commonly known as the Siberian crab. Hybrids between these species have given the race of large-fruited crab-apples of which the transcendent is an example. This race is known to botanists as Pyrus prunifolia."
This statement may need some revision and change. In east Europe the cultivated apples seem to be quite as ancient as in west Europe. The writer in connection with the late Charles Gibb investigated this question quite closely in 1882. Of the apples of that region Mr. Gibb wrote on his return: "The Volga is a very old apple-growing region. I am told that old poems written about the time when Ruric was upon the throne at Kiev - about 850 - alluded to this. The maiden, whose neck was like a swan and whose lips were like cherries, had cheeks like a Volga apple. The high color of the apples of this dry region is very striking. A wild, rugged race of apples has been grown here for many centuries by seedling production, until we have a number of seedlings much alike in tree and fruit and hence it is that the name Anis is but a family name with many varieties."
The Marquis Pauluci in the province of Kazan, on the 57th parallel of north latitude, was able to prove to the writer from documents in the family possession that apples similar to or identical with some varieties on his grounds were grown in that vicinity eight hundred years ago. Beyond doubt the apples of the great east plain of Europe and north central Asia were developed by culture, selection, and natural crossing from the indigenous wild applies yet common in the forests.
Dr. Henfrey speaks from personal observation in his geographical distribution of plants of the wild apple-trees of east Europe towering up to the height of other forest species, and Loudon, who was exceedingly careful in dividing true species, had no hesitation in placing the native apples of east Europe as a distinct species under the name of Pyrus Astrachanica. Central Asia also has the same high-colored type of cultivated apples peculiar to the Volga region. Dr. Albert Regel, who spent nine years in Turkestan and north central Asia, speaks of "Fiery-tinted, harvest apples" and "Large round apples of beautiful carmine color and with bloom like a peach or plum." He also speaks of a winter variety in northwestern Badakshan as "A roundish-pointed apple of beautiful color, firm flesh, and delightful flavor." Dr. Regel also states that high-colored varieties with rich bloom seem to have been anciently cultivated as indicated by the old records in the city of Bokhara. Such facts indicate that Henfrey was right in assuming two natural centres of plant distribution on the eastern continent, one in west Europe and the other in east Europe and north central Asia.
The fact can be sustained that most of the apples of west Europe and the United States and Canada are mongrels. They may in a broad sense all belong to one species, but they are a mingling of races. The close observer can find in France, Germany, and over west Europe dozens of varieties introduced from east Europe and many dozens of varieties that show in leaf, bud, and color and bloom of fruit traces of European and Asiatic crossing with the typical west European Pyrus malus. In the United States it is a suggestive fact that what are called the iron-clad varieties in the North and Northwest all show the birth-marks of direct introduction or descent from the type or race which Loudon classed as Pyrus Astrachanica. Even such standard varieties as Ben Davis, Gano, Baldwin, and Westfield seek no further show in leaf, tree, and fruit an admixture with the anciently cultivated varieties of east Europe and central Asia.
In the same way it is not wholly correct to say that our Siberian crabs are all derived from the Pyrus baccata of Siberia. In 1882 we found in far east Europe varieties of crab-apple with fruit growing in clusters quite as large as the hyslop or transcendent, with large leaves as fuzzy on the under side as the wild Pyrus malus of west Europe. The well-known Virginia crab belongs to this race, and we have reason to believe that several of our large crabs that fruit in clusters are crosses of this race with the Siberian crab. It is not as easy to secure crosses between the Pyrus baccata and the common apple as is usually supposed. Thomas Andrew Knight, of England, carried on experiments in this line for many years. His object was not to secure additional hardiness, but to infuse more character and sprightliness into the common varieties. The outcome was in no case a union of the two species. The seedlings all divided into two classes. Those that bore in clusters were crabs and those that had the required size and fruited on spurs were common apples, in no case of desirable quality. The only varieties yet retained are the Siberian Harvey and the Foxley. These are very small, nearly round, and grow in clusters like the crabs.
A study of this subject from the Kew Gardens at London to the Volga bluffs in Russia will lead to the belief that at least some of our large crabs are crosses of the crabs of east Europe with what we call the Virginia crab and varieties of this type.