Companions Down the
Orchard Path

Being a collection of links to apple, apple tree, and orchard resources
from the creator of My Grandpap's Apple Orchard and the Orchard at Sage Hen Farm.

Apple Variety Descriptions:
General | Blogs and the Like
PA/NY | New England | Midwest | South | West
Canada | UK & Ireland | Europe

Ripening Order | Historical Sources


Apple Varieties: Descriptions and Other Information

General Information about Apple Varieties
  • The apple database with dozens of traits and descriptions from Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva in cooperation with the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory's Germplasm Resources Information Network is one of the most complete listings of apple varieties around. Comments by Roger Way and others are included. Dr. Way's 40-year-old descriptions have been widely circulated around the web, usually unattributed. For an alphabetical list of the apple varieties, go to the catalog. There is also a list of 2401 Malus Domestica varieties by accession number.
  • Adam's Apple, from a New England based blogger, reviews apples (over 150 at this writing) in an "opinionated catalog," and discusses related apple matters as well. One of the few places on the web to find both positive and negative comments. In 2012, Adam initiated a star system from no stars to three stars "based on their qualities eaten out of hand.
  • USDA Pomological Watercolors, now available through the National Agricultural Library's Digital Collection, is a gallery of over 7500 technically accurate paintings, drawings, and lithographs created from 1889 to 1940. The USDA used them to illustrate pamphlets, bulletins, yearbooks, and other publications. A high percentage of the painters and illustrators were women.
  • The British National Fruit Collection's online catalog provides descriptions and some pictures of 2000 apple varieties, including many North American apples.
  • The Orange Pippin from the UK is a site dedicated to "describing the flavours of apples and the origins of different apple varieties."
  • Seattle Tree Fruit Society has apple pictures standardized on a grid to show comparative size and views from top, bottom, side, and cut length- and width-wise. Also on the site are resources and recommendations.

Blogs and other folks who post regularly on the Web about apples
  • New England Apples is a blog featuring apple descriptions, recipes, and seasonal essays.
  • Eat Like No One Else is a blog that has frequent posts about apple varieties including numerical rankings for several characteristics, Crispness, Tartness, Apple Flavor, Sweetness, Juiciness.
  • Royal Oak Farm Orchard's owner Dennis Norton maintains a blog focused on home orchard management.
  • The Fruit Forum, based in England, provides an outlet for an international discussion of fruits.
  • Unconventional Stories from an Apple Farmer, the farmer being Eliza Greenman, from Virginia currently. but apprenticed with John Bunker of Maine.
Regional Commercial Sites (Listing have been selected for the information and illustrations they supply about apple varieties, especially older varieties. Inclusion does not equate to recommendation, since I haven't done any business with any but a few.)
Pennsylvania & New York
  • Adams County Nursery, from one of the most productive apple growing regions in Pennsylvania (or the country).
  • Cummins Nursery/Indian Creek Farm, Ithaca and Geneva, NY. One of the main suppliers of trees in our orchard.
  • North Star Orchard, Cochranville, PA. Pictures and descriptions of over 300 apple varieties,
  • St Lawrence Nursery, near Potsdam, NY. A supplier of some trees in our orchard. Transition to new owners occured in 2015.
New England
  • Fedco Seeds, Maine, includes descriptions and photographs of the fruit trees it sells. A supplier of many trees in our orchard.
  • Gould Hill Farm, Contoocock, NH
  • "Out on a Limb CSA, run by John Bunker, who selects trees for Fedco, offers apple descriptions and personal comments. The newsletter includes "This Week's Picks" which gives you an idea of what varieties ripen together.
  • The New England Apple Association includes pictures and descriptions of more than 200 apples.
  • Maine Heritage Orchard, from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, with pictures and descriptions of more than 200 apples found in its orchard. Many originated in Maine.
  • Lost Nation Orchard at Heartsong Farm in Maine is the home of Michael Phillips, one of the country's leading authorities on organic apple growing.
Southern US
  • Century Farms Orchard, Reidsville, NC, includes illustrations and good descriptions of more than thirty apples, some old, some modern. See also the complete apple list. A supplier of many trees in our orchard, including some of the rarer varieties.
  • Vintage Virginia Apples, now part of Albemarle Ciderworks, has lengthy and illustrated descriptions on many antique and modern apples.
  • Big Horse Creek Farm, Lansing, NC. is another excellent source for descriptions and illustrations.
  • The Southern Heritage Apple Orchard at Horne Creek Farm contains over 400 varieties of apples. Through North Carolina Historic Sites web site, these apples are described and illustrated.
  • Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr. Old Southern Apples, Chelsea Green: 1995. Preview only available through Google Books (although extensive sections are viewable).
West Coast
  • Greenmantle Nursery, California, has a wide collection of heirloom apples and specializes in the fruit developed by maverick fruit developer Alfred Etter.
  • The Apple Farm, Philo, California, has nice personalized descriptions
  • Trees of Antiquity, California, is one of the larger sellers of heritage trees.
  • Raintree Nursery, located in Washington State's rainforest.
  • Salt Spring Apple Company, BC, has pictures and description of apples enough for every day of the week. Descriptions are nicely arranged with story and facts about each variety, and begins with the heading "Why you should be excited."
  • Apple Luscious, BC, has detailed descriptions of about 200 varieties in its catalogue. Some are more complete than others.
UK and Ireland sites
  • Garden Apple I.D. concentrates on apples avaialble in the UK. It has lots of details, photographs, and drawings, in its descriptions.
  • Bernwode Fruit Trees includes illustrations and detailed descriptions of several hundred apple and other traditional British fruit varieties.
  • Deacon's Nursery has a "comprehensive apple catalogue."
  • Keepers Nursery is a leading specialist fruit tree nursery in the UK.
  • Frank P. Matthews Trees for Life has photographs and succinct descriptions of a large number of apple varieties
  • Fruitwise is an English Apple site maintained by "a middle aged couple who dreamed of and planted a new orchard in Hampshire, England."
  • Nigel Deacon, at Sutton Elms, has a full site of apple information, much focused on English apples.
  • The Apple Farm, Cahir, Ireland. Owner Con Traas also maintains an informative newsletter on the site.
  • Baumschule-Horstmann [translated into English], an orchard and nursery in Schenefeld, Schleswig-Holstein, with a large selection of modern and heirloom apples, with good descriptions and photographs.
  • Bioland Baumschule Pfanzlust [translated into English], descriptions and pictures of modern and heirloom apples from a organic farming association based in Mainz, Deutschland
  • GRIN Czech, database of 1088 varieties of Malus Domestica. Copies the style of USDA's GRIN database, but includes some different categories of descriptors, such as "Flower - resistance to frost damage" and "Fruit - resistance to water core" than found in the American repository database.
  • Pometum Apple Key, from Denmark, descriptions of 319 varieties of apple that either are of Danish origin or have been widely grown in Denmark. Available in English.


Ripening Order

Having listed the apples from our orchard in their approximate ripening order, I've been interested in the ripening order that other orchardists have determined. Here are a few that I've collected.

Here in the Finger Lakes

  • Adams County Nursery
  • Apple Castle Note: The orchard has been run by the Johnston family since Lincoln was the President. A couple of the Johnston boys were friends of mine when I was growing up.
New England Midwest

Southern States


Historical Sources

The earliest written record of named apple varieties in North America were advertisements printed as broadsides or placed in newspapers by owners of nurseries. Two of the earliest were the William Smith nursery in Virginia (1755, 21 varieties) and the Prince nursery on Long Island (1771, 42 varieties [here's what the 1841 Prince Catalogue looked like]).

Three books merit special attention among the important treatices on pomology:

  1. Andrew Jackson Downing and Samuel Downing. The Fruits and Fruit-trees of America: Or, the Culture, Propagation, and Management, in the Garden and Orchard, of Fruit-Trees Generally. The first edition of this great authority came out in 1845, being the first attempt to list and describe all the varieties of fruit known in the United States. It was revised several times by his son over then next several decades. Editions available online include Darwin's copy of the 1845 edition and some of Darwin's notes; the first revised edition from 1865; a revised edition with the title Selected Fruits from Downing's Fruits and Fruit-Trees of America (1871); and the second revised edition of 1881, but published in 1900.
  2. Nomenclature of the Apple: a catalogue of the known varieties referred to in American publications from 1804 to 1904. Compiled by W. H. Ragan. Washington, D.C. : U.S. G.P.O., 1905. [Bulletin No. 56. United States. Bureau of Plant Industry.] This work is the most extensive catalogue ever compiled of named varieties of apples found in North America. It includes other names the varieties were known by and has a table to record descriptions and features.
  3. The Apples of New York, by Spencer Ambrose Beach (1905), became something of a Bible for apple growers. Beach was a horticulturist at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva and was known as the leading pomologist of his day. In two colorfully illustrated volumes, Beach provided as complete descriptions of apples as had ever been compiled before. The ample historical sections and list of references he provides for each apple described testifies to his research in both the field and in the library. Both volumes are available online from multiple sources:

Beach's Ratings

One key feature of Beach's descriptions was the rating for the quality of the fruit's flesh. The rating should not be considered an overall rating of the quality of the fruit nor the tree. Many highly rated apples were not commercially viable. Key defects were shy or unreliable cropping, poor keeping, and too tender for shipping. As a result, many of the top rated apples have disappeared or been almost forgotten. Beach appears to have relied on A. J. Downing or other previous pomologists for some of the ratings, since he notes for some top rated apples that "we have not seen this variety." With that caveat, here are Beach's top rated apples:

Volume I (Winter) [24 apples]:
Best: Green Newtown and Yellow Newtown. Very Good to Best: Bullock [American Golden Russet], Esopus Spitzenburg, Hubbardston, Hunt Russet, Jonathan, Lady Sweet [not Lady, aka Api], Newark Pippin, Newtown Spitzenburg, Northern Spy, Peck Pleasant, Pomme Grise, Swaar, Swazie, Tompkins King, Wagener, Westfield Seek-No-Further. Good to Best: Red Canada
Very Good to Best (with caveats): Ellsworth [but he had not seen], Evening Party [but little grown in New York], Grimes [but generally does not develop in color, size, and quality as well in New York as in more southern latitudes]; Pryor [a southern apple not well adapted to New York], White [Winter] Pearmain [a midwest apple not recommended for planting in New York].

Volume II (Summer and Fall) [10 apples]:
Best: Summer Pearmain. Very Good to Best: Autumn Sweet Swaar; Cox Orange; Dyer; Early Joe; Gravenstein; McIntosh; Mother; Primate; Victuals and Drink [but never much cultivated in New York. Oddly, only a few years later Beach's successor, U. P. Hedrick, called Victuals and Drink poor and worthless. It now appears to be extinct].

Other Historical Sources

Here are other historical sources available online, mostly through Google Books or Hathi Trust. Titles in bold have been the most widely cited.

Ancient and Medieval

  • Apples, or round fleshy fruits, are mentioned often in Greek and Roman mythology – there is confusion in translating the words and in context may mean any fruit, any pome fruit, or apples. Horace and, centuries later, Apicius mention apples generically in descriptions of cooking and dining, but Cato and Pliny are among the few to mention apple varieties by name in an agricultural sense. Pliny in Natural History named many varieties of apples, but it is not all clear that they were fruits we would recognize as apples (malus domesticus). In his chapter on apple varieties labeled "Fruits That Have Been Recently Introduced," listed among the new introductions are Matian, Cestian, Mallian, and Scandian, Appian, Petisian, Amerinian, Græculan, Gemella, Syricum, Melapium, Musteum, Melimelum, Orbiculatum, Orthomastium, Spadonium, Melofolium, Pannuceum, Pulmoneum, and Farinacean. Pliny also mentions Sceptian and Quirinian, but Cato in his De Agricultura seems to be describing two varieties of quinces. Pliny also mentions "wild apples with remarkably fine flavor, peculiar pungency, or such acidity that they could blunt a sword blade." Without much evidence, it is thought that the Lady apple was one of these Roman varieties, perhaps from this description: "The latest of all to be introduced is the small apple known as the Petisian that is remarkable for its most agreeable flavor."
  • The Capitulare de villis, issued during Charlemagne's reign before 800 CE, listed rules and regulations regarding proper estate management and economic justice. Apple and pear trees were included:|
    "As for trees, it is our wish that they shall have various kinds of apple, pear, plum, sorb, medlar, chestnut and peach; quince, hazel, almond, mulberry, laurel, pine, fig, nut and cherry trees of various kinds. The names of apples are: gozmaringa, geroldinga, crevedella, spirauca; there are sweet ones, bitter ones, those that keep well, those that are to be eaten straightaway, and early ones. Of pears they are to have three or four kinds, those that keep well, sweet ones, cooking pears and the late-ripening ones."

15th through 18th Centuries

  • There are many references to apples in Shakespeare, and some to specific varieties. Characters in his plays mention pippins, bitter-sweets, and crabs. A codling was an elongated apple variety that was especially hard. Apple-johns appear to be a now-lost variety known to shrivel.Shakespeare wasn't the first or only English speaker to call russet apples l eathercoats. Pomewater was a very juicy apple. Costards are a great mystery, since they were once such a popular variety that apple sellers were called costermongers, but no modern apple variety has been positively identified as a costard.Costard so epitomized rural life that in Loves Labours Lost, Shakespeare named a witty country bumpkin Costard. The bard more often used costard to mean someone's head than a fruit.
  • John Gerard. The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597. Here is the first English reference source to name varieties of apples. Either the varieties have changed names, or they have disappeared. Baker's Ditch, Pome Water, and Quining, or Queene of Apples (which may or may not be a Reinette, since reinette is French for queen). Both the Summer Pearmain and Winter Pearmain (which may or may not be the White Winter Pearmain) are named. This is the first unambiguous reference to the pearmain as an apple variety. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, before this time, it is unclear whether the fruit called pearmain refers to a variety of apple or pear, but would be most likely a reference to a pear. Therefore, take any claims that the White Winter Pearmain is the oldest known English variety of apple, dating back to 1200, as suspect.
  • Michael Drayton. The Poly-Olbion: a Chorographicall Description of Great Britain, 1613. A long poem that describes apples in the Eighteenth Song. Mentioned are the Pippin; the Apple-Orendge; the savoury Russetting; the Peare-maine, "which to France long ere to us was known;" the Renat (an alternate spelling of Reinette and possibly the same variety as Gerard's Queening); the Sweeting, "for whose sake the plow-boys oft make war;" the Wilding; Costard; and the "well-known Pomwater."
  • John Parkinson was the first comprehensive compiler of apple varieties. He names at least 53 in "The Orchard," the third part of his Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris [Paradisi in Sole is a pun on his name Park-in-Sun], 1629. The varieties named in Shakespeare all appear, and several varieties still known today are first mentioned in this work.
  • John Worlidge's Vinetum Britannicum: Ora Treatise of Cider and Other Wines and Drinks, 1675, also includes information about geowing and propagating fruits. Worlidge describes many varieties of apples, some long gone, many still familiar. He explains the origin of the word "pippin" as an apple with many prominent dots, not an apple growing from seed.
  • Stephen Switzer. The Practical Fruit-Gardener. Second edition, 1731. In defining the prefered qualities with which an apple opught to be endowed, the author states "the first is, that it be not too large, that the Pulp and Skin be not tough, but short and as melting as possible, that the Taste of it be rather sharp than sweet, or rather that there be an agreeable Mixture of both: This for Winter Apples. Those for the Summer may be indeed of a finer sugar'd Juice, because they are for present Eating; but give me the Sharpness of the Nonpareil for Winter Spending rather than the Beauty or Sweetness of the Callville Api, or any of the so much magnified French Apples." Describes nine varieties, including Golden Pippin (the finest and most valuable), White Calville, Frank Ranbourge (Summer Rambo), and Pome d'Api (Lady), and lists almost 20 more.
  • Thomas Hitt. A Treatise of Fruit-trees, 1757. Some varieties are named, such as the Margaret apple in context of the first apple of the season, and most are variations of names coupled with pippin, russet, rennet, codlin, and pearmain.
  • J. Gibson. The Fruit-gardener: Containing the Method of Raising Stocks, for Multiplying of Fruit-trees, by Budding, Grafting, &c ... with a Description of Some of the Best Kinds of Fruit, and the Characters of the Trees, as to Growing and Bearing, 1768.
  • John Abercrombie. The British Fruit-gardener (Dublin: 1781). The chapter on apples names 44 varieties and provides advice on grafting, pruning, storage, and other care of apples.

19th Century

20th Century

This page was created and is maintained by John Henderson, Sage Hen Farm, Lodi, NY. (jhenderson @
Last modified: June 9, 2021