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An Apple's Life Cycle

This article first appeared in the 10/9/20 edition of the Davis Enterprise

An Apple's Life Cycle

Apple trees in Upper Swabia. Photo by Thomas Schilling/Wikimedia Commons

An Apple’s Life Cycle


By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise



Apples are one of the most recognized fruit and one that is common in late summer and fall.  The wild ancestor of apples originated in Central Asia and can still be found there.  Centuries of breeding and hybridizations have now created over 7,500 known varieties of apples.  Apples can be harvested during multiple times of the year depending on the variety.  In the summertime, Gala and McIntosh can be picked, where Fuji and Gold Delicious are often picked in fall, with Winesap and Granny Smith being harvested into winter.  Even with the large variety of apples in the world, they all go through much of the same life cycle.


Many apple trees begin as seeds, with some being grafted to create some hybrids.  Either way, the tree needs to be taken care of, needing plenty of water and sun just like any plant.  Apple trees can grow to 6-15 feet tall and can be up to 30 feet wide.


Apple trees typically flower in the late spring and early summer.  Apples are known as self-incompatible, which means it relies on the process of cross-pollination in order to develop the fruit.  Pollinators, such as bees, are attracted to the apple blossom and land on it for nectar.  When the bee moves to another blossom it spreads the pollen from the previous flower to another.  When an apple blossom has been cross-pollinated it begins to develop the fruit.


When pollen from another flower is deposited onto another, the sperm present in the pollen from the first flower is sent down the style of the second.  It then reaches the ovary of the second plant, fertilizing it, creating seeds.  The ovary’s inner wall becomes the core that surrounds the seeds.  The outer wall of the ovary will develop into the white, fleshy part we eat, with the skin growing on the whole system to protect it.


The apple continues to grow and to ripen as the summer and fall go by.  A few weeks before harvest, the tree cuts off the food supply to the apples, which causes them to become sweeter.  If not picked, apples will naturally fall from the tree and decompose, giving nutrients back to the parent tree.  Most apples are harvested well before this and are stored for selling later or are used right away.  Many orchards invite the public to pick their own apples to help with making sure every apple is picked and not wasted.


All parts of an apple are edible, except for the seeds which do contain small amounts of amygdalin and cyanide, both are toxic to humans in large amounts.  Most people do not eat the seeds or the core but can plant them and start the process all over again or compost them to help nourish other plants.


Whether you eat apples as it or use them to cook with, remember that the fruit went through a lot just to grow.  If there is a type of apple you do not like, try another as there are more than 7,500 known varieties all with varying tastes and uses.



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