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
PA/NY | New England | Midwest | South | West |
UK & Ireland

Tree Management

Historical Sources

 

Apple Varieties: Descriptions and Other Information

General Information about Apple Varieties
  • The Orange Pippin from the UK is a site dedicated to "describing the flavours of apples and the origins of different apple varieties."
  • 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."
  • Turkeysong is a blog from an "experiemental homestead" that often talks about apples, including some sharp reviews of specific varieites.
  • Tom Brown of Clemmons, NC, has put his passion of lost heritage apple varieties into a guide and business called Apple Search
  • Apple Journal appears not to have been updated since 2011, and really not much since 2004, but on the site are good guides to apple varieties: one has descriptions and illustrations of about 80 varieties, and the one it calls comprehensive covers closer to 250 varieties, but has no illustrations. Its orchard trail section is no longer maintained.
  • The Fruit Forum, based in England, provides an outlet for an international discussion of fruits.
  • Backyard Orchard Culture, explained on the Dave Wilson Nursery site.
Regional Commercial and Non-profit Sites with Information about Apple Varieties
Pennsylvania & New York
  • Adams County Nursery, from one of the most productive apple growing regions in Pennsylvania (or the country), includes a rating system in its descriptions of apples (size, keeping quality, flavor, scab and blight resistance).
  • Cummins Nursery/Indian Creek Farm, Ithaca and Geneva, NY, includes descriptions, but no illustrations, of a large stock of antique, cold-hardy, and disease-resistant, cider & other unusual apples plus the standard currently popular apple and other fruit trees.
  • Black Diamond Farm, Trumansburg, NY -- pictures and brief descriptions of the 30+ varieties of apples they grow. In the orchard is a mix of antique and recently developed apple varieties.
  • Daring Drake Farm: Apples. Descriptions, but not pictures, of apples listed in harvest order.
  • Hemlock Grove Farm, in Danby, NY, is organic and includes many "low spray" varieties.
  • St. Lawrence (NY) Nursery specializes in hardy apples. Buried on its site is the 2013 catalog.
  • New York Apple Country has lots of information about apples and can be used to locate apples and orchards
  • Apple Castle, between New Castle and New Wilmington, Pa., has been in the Johnston family since Lincoln was the President, and I grew up with a couple of the Johnston boys. Their most popular apple varieties are listed on the website by riping date, but they grow numerous heirloom varieties that are not included.
New England
  • Gould Hill Orchard in Hopkinton, NH, provides picking times and descriptions of its 90 or so apples, including modern and heirloom.
  • Fedco Seeds, Maine, includes descriptions and photographs of the fruit trees it sells, including many heritage apple varieties that originated in Maine.
  • Out on a Limb CSA, run by John Bunker, who selects trees for Fedco, offers some variations on the Fedco descriptions mixed with personal comments. The newsletter includes "This Week's Picks" which gives you an idea of what varieties ripen together.
  • The Worcester Horticultural Society Tower Hill Botanical Garden maintains the Frank L. Harrington Sr. Orchard of antique apple trees. It has sold scion sticks, but may not be doing so (at least online) currently.
  • Scott Farm Orchard, in Dummerston, Vermont (where Rudyard Kipling lived for a time), provides descriptions and pictures of their (mostly) heirloom apples. They grow over 90 varieties, but not all are described yet.
  • Poverty Lane Orchards and Farmum Hill Ciders, in New Hampshire, describes and provides pictures of some of its many unusual varieties.
  • New England Apples is a blog featuring apple descriptions, recipes, and seasonal essays. It originates from the New England Apple Association.
  • Maine Heritage Orchard, from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, with pictures and descriptions of apples that 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. The site includes very brief descriptions of their apples.
Midwest
  • Purdue published a factsheet [pdf] of Apple Cultivars for Indiana.
  • Tuttle Orchard near Indianapolis includes photos and descriptions of the 25 varieties it grows and includes a nice chart with useful information.
  • Applesource, founded by the late Tom Vorbeck, still includes Tom's Growing Tips which also includes excellent short descriptions of the all the wide variety of the apples.
  • Tree-mendus Fruit, Eau Claire, Michigan, provides photographs and short descriptions of many different apples.
  • Moore Orchards, Midland, Michigan -- see especially the essay, "How Good Were Those Old-Time Apples" which lists some apples that were, and some that weren't.
  • Maple Valley Orchard, Gillett,Wisconsin: Apple Cultivars -- brief descriptions of hundreds of varieties, with hardiness zone information.
  • Southmeadow, in Michigan, has a long history of supplying heritage fruit trees, and appears to have recovered from a recent business unpleasantness.
  • Weston's Antique Apple Orchards from New Berlin, Wisconsin, includes a handy chart of apples with harvest dates and the post-harvest weeks when they are at their best.
  • Royal Oak Farm Orchard, in Illinois, includes a wealthy of information about apples and apple growing. Owner Dennis Norton's blog is focused on home orchard management.
  • Michele Warmund, UMo Department of Horticulture describes apples adapted to Missouri in Apple Cultivars and Their Uses
  • Grandpa's Orchard, from Coloma, Michigan, has descriptions, illustrations, and a little history of the fruit trees it sells, plus some nice growing tips guides. [The business "Grandpa's Orchard" and this site "My Grandpap's Apple Orchard" are totally unrelated.]
Southern US
  • Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr. Old Southern Apples, Chelsea Green: 1995. Preview only (although extensive sections viewable) available through Google Books.
  • Vintage Virginia Apples, Rural Ridge Orchard, North Garden, VA, has lengthy and illustrated descriptions on many antique and modern apples.
  • Big Horse Creek Farm, Lansing, NC, maintains a long list of apple variety descriptions.
  • Century Farms Orchard, Reidsville, NC, includes illustrations and good descriptions of more than thirty apples, some old, some modern. I especially like the addition of quarters in the apple pictures to get a sense of size. A complete apple list with hundreds of varieties, not all available every year, is offered as a pdf.
West Coast
  • Trees of Antiquity, California, both include long lists of apple varieties with iphotographs and descriptive annotations including zones, and other growing details.
  • Raintree Nursery, located in Washington State's rainforest, has an extensive and descriptive catalog of apple tree varieties.
  • Harmony Orchards, organic growers from Tieton, Washington, include a story and photographs of the fruits they sell.
UK and Ireland sites
  • Brogdale Farm is the home of the British National Fruit Collection. Its online catalog provides descriptions and some pictures of 2000 apple varieties, including many North American apples.
  • Keepers Nursery is a leading specialist fruit tree nursery in the UK, and its online catalogue is lengthy, well-illustrated, very descriptive, and searchable by several traits and categories.
  • Fruitwise is an English Apple site maintained by "a middle aged couple who dreamed of and planted a new orchard in Hampshire, England." It includes their story, tips, photographs, and a diary.
  • The Apple Farm, Cahir, Ireland, is operated by Con Traas. For information about apples, check the newsletter link.

 

Management of Trees

Advice from Academics

  • Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva in cooperation with the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory's Germplasm Resources Information Network provides a database compiling apples by dozens of traits and descriptions. One of the most complete listings of apple varieties around. Comments by Roger Way and others are included. Dr. Way's descriptions have been widely circulated around the web, usually unattributed.
  • Penn State's Tree Fruit Production Guide covers a full range of commercial tree fruit production issues and is valuable for backyard orchardists, as well.
  • Virtual Orchard, co-sponsored by Rutgers Cooperative Extension and Michigan State Cooperative Extension, provides news and information, and place for discussion.
  • Malus Resources at the Geneva Repository Plant Genetic Resources Unit, Cornell University, Geneva, NY
  • Critical Temperatures for Frost Damage on Fruit Trees: Utah State's Cooperative Extension has adapted a table developed by Washington State University that lists temperatures for each stage of development at which 10% and 90% bud kill occurs after 30 minutes exposure. The Utah addition is to illustrate the development stages.

Organic and IPM

 

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 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 has 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

Other Historical Sources

Here are other historical sources available online, mostly through Google Books or Cornell's Core Historical Literature of Agriculture. Titles in bold have been the most widely cited.

Ancient

  • 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. Where Pliny has chapter titles "Fifteen Varieties of Olives," "Six Varieties of the Peach," "Twelve Kinds of Plums," and "Forty-One Varieties of the Pear," his chapter on apple varieties is labeled "Fruits That Have Been Recently Introduced." There is confusion in translating the words that mean fruit, pomes and apples. Listed among the new introductions are Matian, Cestian, Mallian, and Scandian, Appian, Sceptian, Quirinian, Petisian, Amerinian, Gręculan, Gemella, Syricum, Melapium, Musteum, Melimelum, Orbiculatum, Orthomastium, Spadonium, Melofolium, Pannuceum, Pulmoneum, and Farinacean. 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.

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.
  • 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.
     By
  • 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
  • A. F. M. Willich. Domestic Encyclopedia. 1st American edition, 1802. Of 23 apples mentioned in the section on Orchard, only New-town Pippin was an American variety. The only European apples listed that succeeded into the next century were White Winter Calville, Gravenstein, and Russian Ice-apple (Astrakhan).
  • William Forsyth. Treatise on the Culture and Management of Fruit Trees, 1802. This work describes 44 varieties grown in England and enumerates 60 more.
  • William Coxe's A View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees, and the Management of Orchards and Cider; with Accurate Descriptions of the Most Estimable Varieties of and Foreign Apples, Pears, Peaches, Plums, and Cherries, Cultivated in the Middle States of America, 1817. This was the first book published in America with a comprehensive and annotated list of varieties of apples and other fruits.
  • James Thacher. The American Orchardist: Or, A Practical Treatise on the Culture and Management of Apple and Other Fruit Trees. 2d Edition (1825). Includes both descriptions of apple varieties and the author's "Most Approved Method of Manufacturing and Preserving Cider."
  • A Catalogue of the Fruits Cultivated in the Garden of the Horticultural Society of London, 1831. The first to list apples in a table with columns for colour, form, size, quality, season, and uses.
  • Robert Manning. Book of Fruits; Being a Descriptive Catalogue of the Most Valuable Varieties of the Pear, Apple, Peach, Plum & Cherry, for New England Culture: Being a Descriptive Catalogue of the Most Valuable Varieties of the Pear, Apple, Peach, Plum & Cherry, for New-England Culture. Ives & Jewett, 1838.
  • Samuel Cole. American Fruit Book, 1849. With directions for raising fruit and descriptions of the best varieties. Cole was the grandson of the discoverer of the Cole's Quince.
  • George Jaques.A Practical Treatise on the Management of Fruit Trees; With Descriptive Lists of the Most Valuable for Cultivation; Adapted to the Interior of New England, 1849.
  • Ebenezer Emmons. Natural History of New York. Report on the Agriculture of New York, Volume III. Albany: 1851. Chapter Two, Varieties of Apples, is a 96 page synopsis of the varieties and descriptions of summer, autumn and winter apples.
  • Robert Hogg. British Pomology; Or, The History, Description, Classification, and Synonymes, of the Fruits and Fruit Trees of Great Britain. Vol.1, The Apple, 1851. The most complete book on the apple when it was published, it includes descriptions of 942 apples, including North American varieties.
  • C.M Hovey. Fruits of America. 1852. Volume One and Two. Only a few apple varieties are included in each volume, and their descriptions are interspersed with varieties of pears, cherries, peaches, plums, and strawberries.The description, however, are detailed and well illustrated. There was a quarrel between Hovey and A. J. Downing with claims that Hovey was unfairly giving more favorable reviews to New England apples and that Downing was biased toward apples that flourished in the Hudson Valley of New York.
  • F. R. Elliott. Elliott's Fruit Book; Or, The American Fruit-grower's Guide in Orchard and Garden, 1854.
  • E. J. Hooper. Hooper's Western fruit book: a Compendium Collection of Facts, from the Notes and Experiences of Successful Fruit Culturists, Arranged for Practical Use in the Orchard and Garden, 1857. Note: when the book was published, the "western states" included Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio.
  • Henry Ward Beecher. Plain and pleasant talk about fruits, flowers and farming. 1st ed., 1859, & 2d ed., 1874.
  • Charles Baker. Practical and scientific fruit culture, 1866.
  • J. A. Warder. American pomology. Apples, 1867. Warder was the first American pomologist to create an systematic classification of apple.
  • W. C. Flagg. "The Apple," found in the Missouri Yearbook of Agriculture: 1867 Annual Report. An essay covering the history of the apple, a discussion of various classification schemes, recommendations of varieties, and poetry. The essay, which begins on page 395, was based on a Wednesday evening address given by a "distinguished and literate apple grower" from Alton, Ill.
  • Sereno Edwards Todd. The Apple Culturist: A Complete Treatise for the Practical Pomologist, 1871.
  • James Fitz. The Southern Apple and Peach Culturist, 1872.
  • John Jacob Thomas. The American Fruit Culturist, 1875.
  • Archibald A. Barron. British apples: report of the Committee of the National Apple Congress, October 5th to 25th, 1883.
  • Samuel Taylor Maynard. The Practical Fruit Grower, 1909 (c1885).
  • Michigan Fruit List, prepared by L.R. Taft for Bulletin 105 of the Michigan Horticultural Department, is included in the Annual report of the secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan, 1894, starting on page 314.
  • George Bunyard, one of England's leading orchardists, created a well annotated catalog. The 1898 catalog is online.
  • De Nederlandsche Boomgaard, illustrations and descriptions (translated into English) of apples from a 19th Century Dutch book.

20th Century

This page was created and is maintained by: John Henderson, Sage Hen Farm, Lodi, NY.
Last modified: August 19, 2014
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