National Geographic Magazine/Volume 31/Number 6/Our State Flowers/The Apple Blossom

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Our State Flowers[edit]

The Apple Blossom (Malus sylvestris Mill.)[edit]

Arkansas and Michigan

Malus sylvestris Mill.

The apple blossom shares with the carnation the distinction of being the only two flowers in Nature's garden that have won two legislatures to their standards in the “battle of the buds” for popular affection. While Ohio and Indiana have pledged legislative fealty to the carnation, Arkansas and Michigan have cast their fortunes with the apple blossom.

There are a few commonwealths which, while agreeing that a thing of beauty is a joy forever, are yet utilitarian enough to hold that when a delight to the eye ripens into a joy to the palate it is to be prized above all other forms of loveliness. Florida and Delaware share this view with Arkansas and Michigan.

Certainly, whoever has seen an apple orchard in full bloom, with its whole acres of pink and white petals set in a framework of green, will not need to wonder why two legislatures should prize especially the beauty of the apple blossom.

The apple blossom is one of the progressives of the floral world. It wants a hardy, strong, resistant posterity; so it takes careful precaution to insure cross-fertilization. The stigmas reach maturity before the anthers begin to shed their pollen, and in this way the insects have every opportunity to bring pollen from another blossom. But if the bees and the butterflies chance to overlook one, it retains its petals until its own anthers are developed and can enable it to produce an apple.

Perhaps nowhere else do we get a more striking picture of what selection may accomplish than in the case of the apple tree and its fruit. Contrast the stately and spreading winesap tree in a well-cultivated orchard with the small, knotty-limbed, scaly-wooded wild crab tree. Isn't it almost like contrasting a stately elm with a dwarfed hawthorn? And yet, is there as much difference between the ancestral crab and the descendant winesap trees as there is between their fruits?

The wild crab-apple, though a gnarled, knotty, thorny, acrid-fruited tree, is the Adam of a wonderful race. An orchardist recently counted more than three hundred varieties of apples, all of them direct descendants of this sturdy pioneer.

What could bear better testimony to the value of apples than the poetical proverbs which have crept into our language celebrating their qualities! “To eat an apple before going to bed will make the doctor beg his bread,” says one of these; and another declares, “An apple eaten every day will send one's doctor far away.” An old Saxon coronation ceremony carried with it a benediction after this fashion: “May this land be filled with apples.”

Any one who looks at a modern apple orchard finds it hard to realize how close is the relationship of the apple to the rose, and yet they belong to the same order, Rosacæ, the apple's thorns having passed under the softening influences of a kindly civilization. Now the only thorn the apple possesses is the figurative one that is hidden in the green fruit, which small boys often discover to their anguish.

In history, tradition, and mysticism the apple has played a distinguished rôle. Through it, we are told, “came man's first disobedience, which brought death into the world and all our woe.” Juno gave Jupiter an apple on their wedding day, and a poorly thrown one was the immediate cause of the ruin of Troy. Paris gave a golden apple to Venus; Atalanta lost her race by stopping to pick up one, and the fair fruits of the Hesperides were the apples of gold.

In the west of England the village girls used to gather crab-apples and mark them with the initials of their beaux. The ones that were most nearly perfect on old St. Michaelmas Day were supposed to represent the lovers who would make the best husbands. In our own land to this day girls tell their fortunes on Hallowe'en by naming the apples and counting the seeds. An apple paring thrown over the shoulder on that fateful night will form the initial of the future mate.

Source: —, ed. (June 1917), “Our State Flowers: The Floral Emblems Chosen by the Commonwealths”, The National Geographic Magazine 31(6): 487. (Illustration from page 501.)