Apple trees in Boston

I visited family in Boston this past weekend and was amazed to see hundreds if not thousands of feral apple trees in bloom along the sides of the roads from just east of the berkshires into the Boston area. They were everywhere - along the highways, in exit ramp cloverleafs, in wooded areas next to subdivisions, etc. much much more than in the nyc / Hudson River valley regions where I live and keep an eye out… Even my three year old started saying “daddy, there’s another apple tree!”

So is Boston a magical place for apples? The perfect combination of climate and sunlight? Cumulative impact of nearly 400 yrs of colonization and apple horticulture?

I dunno, never been there, but it sounds to me that it’s ripe for a little discreet grafting …


I don’t know if I would call what you saw feral apple trees. I think many are crab apples. They are everywhere. Their blooms are what attract people to plant them. Maybe, our highway dept. hasthe same appreciation of beautiful crab apples.

Many if my friends would rather grow crab apple trees than growing real apple trees. They know growing real apple is more work and choose not to do it.

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Roxbury Russet is from Boston. One of the all-time great apples in my opinion.

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Yes, there are several antique/ heirloom apples found or orginated in MA. Baldwin, HubbardstonNonesuch, Roxbury Russet, Sutton Beauty, Westfield SeekNoFurther, etc.

I counted 238 trees in bloom (apple and crabs some more than 3ft. trunks)on the way to work A trip less than 7 miles.some of these suckers are REAL OLD too.I’m 50 miles north of Bean town,seacoast N.H

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Some were clearly planted on purpose. Perhaps they were ornamental crabs, I don’t know. Most others looked wild to me, just based on where they were (an overgrown cloverleaf, edge of a wooded area, etc) and their wild-looking forms.

I figured 400 years of people throwing their apple cores out carriages / car windows and deer pooping apple seeds, along with a favorable climate…

I told my niece and her boyfriend, who are getting into hard cider making, they should map out the blooms around them and come back in the fall to test the juice. They could find a winner bittersweet among all those trees…

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Good to hear a perspective from those from other states. I’ve live here for so long so I’ve never thought we have more apple trees around than other states.

There are also many small orchards all over central MA where I live.

The sad part of the story is, there were a lot of orchards that got sold for development, so some trees were removed some stayed neglected and “feral” as natural property borders and privacy screens. Some of the apple trees seems to be incredibly old. I bet that people who know what they doing can find very interesting old species here for grafting.

That happened in my area too. One very big old orchard was turned into a golf course. They kept a few rows to border the main road and property line.

My county has an online mapping tools with aerial photos going back to the 1930 s. You can pan the screen, with the left side of the screen the most recent 2010) aerial photo, and the right an historical photo. The software nearly seamlessly matches up the boundary of the two photos. I’ve identified several locations where old orchards were located in the past, which have been overgrown by forest. It’s on my to-do list to go out in those areas and see whether any of the old trees survive, and whether any of their feral offspring have stepped out into the surrounding wilds.

Last year, I found out that a place where I visit often has an apple tree. I asked the people there. They said it was planted since 1960’s but no one knows what variety it is. The tree was loaded. In the fall, I picked the fruit and realized that there were two kinds of apples on that tree. After a closer look, I’ve found that there are two trees, the main tree and the “accidental tourist”.

The main tree is a red-flesh apple. I posted the pic here last year. Scott Smith thought it could be Redfield due to the fact that Redfield was widely planted here at the time. I looked up Redfield. It did not fit the description.

The other must be a sport of Golden Delicious. It looks like GD but has more red skin than just plain yellow skin. It tasted similar, too. The size is also similar.

Since the red-flesh is a mystery but interesting and the sport one tasted good, I collected scionwood from both and grafted on my tree. Both grafts took. I don’t know how long that original tree will last. This past winter, I saw so much snow was pushed against it. The tree is not well care for. Practically, it toughs it up on its own.

People there say it’s biennial. No wonder!!! No one ever thin the fruit. Predictably, no flowers or fruit this year.

John Adams, in my opinion, one of the greatest Presidents and leaders of all time, lived in Quincy/Braintree. He drank a draft of hard apple cider from his own Massachusetts farm every morning for his breakfast. It was not made by servants or slaves. He made it himself.

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Perhaps just 400 years of people eating an apple and throwing the core out to the side of the road. Even where I am (cold and probably too dry to keep an apple tree really happy) one sees the occasional volunteer apple tree growing by a road or path, usually close to a stream or gully.

Yup. And they are often doubles- two trees growing cheek to jowl with each other.

It is true there are many wild and untended apple trees around the Boston area. I ride a bike path to work that is along an old rail line and there are tons of wild trees along there; maybe people throwing their apple cores out the train window? I taught myself how to graft on these trees, though none of my grafts have so far born fruit. Usually they were done quickly using tools carried in my bike bag, down low on trees that may not have been in the best sun, etc.

Wild apples doing fine is not just a Massachusetts thing either. There are loads of wild and perhaps planted purposefully but now untended trees in Maine too. My cider partner Ben’s parents pick up to a hundred kilos of fruit off the apples growing around the area, which make a nice supplement to our purchased fruit for cider making.

Lots of the wild trees make fruit that is too bland or small to be worth picking even for cider, but there are plenty that pack a powerful punch with acid or tannin. Ben has topworked plenty of wild trees, which not only gives the scion a big headstart but can also keep them above the deer browsing zone.

It seems to me this year there are more blooms than usual. Two years ago we had a blockbuster apple year, last year was very light, so you would expect this year to be on the heavy side again.

Just because there are wild trees doesn’t mean growing them is a cake walk. We have an abundance of apple pests too: fireblight, CAR, squirrels, borers, and the like.


Yeah, up @warmwxrules way, there are many wild apples in the hills of the Paleozoic Plateau (a.k.a.: Driftless Area). They were all in full bloom two weekends ago when I was driving through that area. I suppose there are more wild apples there because that area is less row-crop than the surrounding areas in IA, MN, and WI and has more pasture. With the apples probably being of less major nuisance and possibly some benefit (shade, supplemental food) to the cattleman than to the row-crop farmer.

“Pre-harvest” drop or dropping fruit before fully ripening is another problem with wild trees that is mostly selected against in many domestic cultivars.