A person asked me recently if our domestic apples are descended from crab apples.
The answer is no, but it's only recently that genetic evidence has become available.
There are three common types of apple:
Sweet Apple (Malus pumila)
European Crab (Malus sylvestris)
Siberian crab (Malus baccata)
The domesticated sweet apple is descended from the sweet apples of the fruit forests of the Tien Shan area of Central Asia. Malus pumila in this region consists of a great diversity of apple types, of all flavours and sizes, many of them bitter and inedible. By a process of natural selection the ones with agreeable flavours gradually diffused westwards to Europe and the United Kingdom.
Malus Pumila exists in three forms:
1. Wild, still in Kazakhstan region
2. Our domesticated varieties
3. Feral seedlings, often along old roads.
90% of named English varieties are descended from a very narrow genetic base - just 6 cultivars.
Some evaluation of the ancient Asian varieties is being done at the Geneva research station in the USA. Seeds from these apples are being planted to get information about the resulting trees.
Reference: Juniper, B and Mabberley, D: The Story of the Apple. Timber Press, 2006.
Nigel Deacon / Diversity website
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