Country diary: where the wild apples grow…


Chardown, Dorset: Along the hedgerow they are blossoming in sugar clouds, despite the rain

Bursts of candy pink along the hedgerow mark the apple trees, blossoming in sugar clouds despite the beating rain. Twice a year these apples catch my eye – now when they are in bloom, and again in late autumn when their yellow and red fruits cluster on bare branches. They grow on an old hedgebank, twisted in among oak, holly and hawthorn, pushing up perhaps eight metres high. These are self-set trees, no one planted them. But what are they exactly? Seedlings from cores tossed aside by walkers? Crab apples? Or something else?

Broadly speaking, Britain has three main apple types. Wild apple (Malus sylvestris) has grown here since the end of the last ice age. Its small, hard, sour fruits were used for feeding pigs and making verjuice – a type of sharp vinegar. Around 2,000 years ago the domestic apple (M domestica) arrived. It is a hybrid of a sweet Asian species (M sieversii), a Caucasian crab apple and M sylvestris. Then there are ornamental crab apples, the kind sold in garden centres. These are mixtures of Asian and American species, interbred with domestic apples.

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