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It turns out that Richard Mabey is a fabulous antidote to the Koch brothers and other ring-wing billionaires in Dark Money and economics in Thorstein Veblen. I thought Mabey’s The Cabaret of Plants would be one long sustained examination of things plant but it turns out to be individual chapters focusing on a particular plant or some aspect of plantish-ness. This format makes it prime before bed reading. Most of the chapters are a near perfect length to read before my brain completely shuts down and I read the same sentence over and over and still have no idea what it says.

While Washington, D.C. and Japan have cherry blossoms, Minneapolis has apple blossoms and they are in peak bloom right now. The city has planted loads of dark pink, light pink and white ornamental crabapples throughout the parks over the years and when they are all in bloom, gosh, is it ever gorgeous. And because they are so pretty, people have also planted them in their own yards. So currently you can’t go two blocks without seeing at least a couple of these trees.

one of my apple trees

one of my apple trees

In my own garden I have fruiting apple trees and a fruiting crabapple that are all in bloom too. The blossoms are slightly different than the ornamental trees, but just as beautiful in my opinion. So cherry blossoms are great, but I have a special place in my heart for apple blossoms.

Serendipitously the other night I read a chapter in Mabey’s book about apples. Genetic testing has allowed researchers to trace apple trees to their origination point: Tien Shan, China. From there scientists theorize that apples were assisted in their spread around the world first by Chinese brown bears and horses and then by people. We’re talking 7,000 years ago here.

Apples do not grow true from seed, meaning apple seeds do not grow into trees that are just like the parent tree. In order to have an orchard of honeycrisps, all the trees have to have been grafted onto the rootstock of another apple tree. It is guessed that the first apple tree was grafted about 4,000 years ago. Pretty cool, huh?

How many varieties of apples would you guess there are in the world? The second half of the nineteenth century was the zenith of apple diversity and it is estimated there were 20,000 named varieties worldwide with 6,000 of those in Britain alone.

Apple evolution of course continues. It seems nearly every few years the University of Minnesota alone is introducing a new apple variety. Just when I could get my own honeycrisp tree they have moved on to tango and zestar.

Mass cultivation of apples has shrunk the range of varieties, but the apple trees themselves don’t care. Toss a core out somewhere and if it sprouts, the resulting tree will be something new and different. Such independence and refusal to conform on the part of apple trees makes me love them even more.

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