Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Trees by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Trees by  Anna Botsford Comstock

The Apple

Teacher's Story

"Man fell with apples and with apples rose,

If this be true; for we must deem the mode

In which Sir Isaac Newton could disclose,

Through the then unpaved stars, the turnpike road,

A thing to counterbalance human woes."


dropcap image PPLES seem to have played a very important part in human history, and from the first had much effect upon human destiny, judging from the trouble that ensued both to Adam and to Helen of Troy from meddling, even though indirectly, with this much esteemed fruit. It is surely no more than just to humanity—shut out from the Garden of Eden—that the apple should have led Sir Isaac Newton to discover the law which holds us in the universe; and that, in these later centuries, apples have been developed, so beautiful and so luscious as almost to reconcile us to the closing of the gates of Paradise.

While it is true that no two apples were ever exactly alike, any more than any two leaves, yet their shapes are often very characteristic of the varieties. From the big, round Baldwin to the cone-shaped gillyflower, each has its own peculiar form, and also its own colors and markings and its own texture and flavor. Some have tough skins, others bruise readily even with careful handling; but to all kinds, the skin is an armor against those ever-present foes, the fungus spores, myriads of which are floating in the air ready to enter the smallest breach, and by their growth bring about decay. Even the tip of a branch or twig swayed by the wind, may bruise an apple and cause it to rot; windfalls are always bruised and will not keep. Greater care in packing, wrapping, picking and storing, so as to avoid contact with other apples, is a paying investment of labor to the apple grower.

The cavities at the stem and basin-ends of the fruit are also likely to have, in the same variety, a likeness in their depth or shallowness, and thus prove a help in identifying an apple. At the blossom, or basin, end of the fruit may be seen five scales, which are all that remain of the calyx-lobes which enclosed the blossom; and within them are the withered and shrunken stamens and styles.


a, cavity;   b, basin;   c, calyx lobes;   d, calyx tube with the withered stamens attached;   e, carpels;   f, outer core-lines, terminating at a point where stamens are attached;   g, fibres extending from stem to basin.

Transverse section of apple showing the five carpels and the ten outer core-lines.

When the fruit is cut, we see that the inner parts differ as much in the different varieties as do the outer parts. Some have large cores, others small. The carpels, or seed-cells, are five in number, and when the fruit is cut across through the center these carpels show as a pretty, five-pointed star; in them the seeds lie, all pointing toward the stem. Some apples have both seeds and carpels smooth and shining, while in others they are tufted with a soft, fuzzy outgrowth. The number of seeds in each cell varies; the usual number is two. In case a carpel is empty, the apple is often lopsided, and this signifies that the stigma of that ovary received no pollen. The apple seed is oval, plump and pointed, with an outer shell, and a delicate inner skin covering the white meat; this separates readily into two parts, between which, at the point, may be seen the germ. The entire core, with the pulp immediately surrounding the seed cells, is marked off from the rest of the pulp by the core-lines, faint in some varieties but distinct in others. In our native crab-apples this separation is so complete that, when the fruit is ripe, the core may be plucked out leaving a globular cavity at the center of the apple.

Extending from the stem to the basin, through the center of the apple, is a bundle of fibers, five in number, each attached to the inner edge of a carpel, or seed-box. Other bundles of fibers pass through the flesh about half way between the core and the skin. Delicate as they are, so that no one observes them in eating the fruit, they show clearly as a second core-line, and each terminates at a point in the calyx-tube where the stamens were attached—as can be easily seen by dissecting an apple. In transverse section, these show as ten faint dots placed opposite each outer point and inner angle of the star at the center formed by the carpels. Sometimes the seed-cells are very close to the stem, and the apple is said to have a sessile core; if at the center of the fruit, it has a medium core; if nearest to the blossom end, it has a distant core. This position of the core marks different varieties.


Basket of apples.

Apples even of the same variety, differ much in yield and quality according to the soil and climate in which they grow. The snow apple grows best in the St. Lawrence Valley, and New York State is noted for the fine flavor of the Esopus spitzenburg, the northern spy, and the Newtown pippin, all of which originated and grow best within its boundaries. Thus, each locality has its favorite variety.

Too often in passing through the country, we see neglected and unprofitable orchards, with soil untilled, the trees unpruned and scale-infested, yielding scanty fruit, fit only for the cider mill and the vinegar barrel. This kind of orchard must pass away and give place to the new horticulture.

References—Popular Apple Growing, Green; The American Apple Orchard, Waugh; The Apple and How to Grow It, Farmers' Bulletin 113, U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Lesson CCI

The Apple

Leading thought—The apple is a nutritious fruit, wholesome and easily digested. The varieties of apple differ in shape, size, color, texture and flavor. A perfect apple has no bruise upon it and no worm-holes in it.

Method—Typical blossoms of different varieties of apples should be brought into the schoolroom, where the pupils may closely observe and make notes about their appearance. Each pupil should have one or two apples that may be cut in vertical and transverse sections, so that the pulp, core-lines, carpels and seeds may be observed. After this lesson there should be an apple exhibit, and the pupils should be taught how to score the apples according to size, shape, color, flavor and texture.


1. Sketch the shape of your apple. Is it almost spherical, or flattened, or long and egg-shaped, or with unequal tapering sides? How does the shape of the apple help in determining its variety?

2. What is the color of the skin? Is it varied by streaks, freckles or blotches? Has it one blushing cheek the rest being of a different color?

3. Is the stem thick and fleshy, or short and knobby, or slender and woody and long? Does each variety have a characteristic stem?

4. Is the cavity or depression where the stem grew narrow and deep like a tunnel, or shallow like a saucer?

5. Examine the blossom end, or basin. What is its shape? Can you find within it the remnants of the calyx-lobes, the stamens and the pistils of the flower?

6. What is the texture of the skin of the apple? Is it thin, tough, waxy or oily? Has it a bloom that may be rubbed off? From what sort of injury does the skin protect the apple?

Experiment 1.  Take three apples of equal soundness and peel one of them; place them on a shelf. Place one of the unpeeled apples against the peeled one, and the other a little distance from it. Does the peeled apple begin to rot before the other two? Does the unpeeled apple touching the peeled one begin to decay first at the point of contact?

Experiment 2.  Take an apple with a smooth, unblemished skin and vaccinate it with some juice from an apple that has begun to decay; perform the operation with a pin or needle, pricking first the unsound fruit and then the sound one; this may be done in patterns around the apple or with the initials of the operator's name. Where does this apple begin to decay? What should these two experiments teach us as to the care and storage of fruit?

7. Cut an apple through its center from stem to blossom end. Describe the color, texture and taste of the pulp. Is it coarse or fine-grained? Crisp or smooth? Juicy, or dry and mealy? Sweet or sour? Does it exhale a fragrance or have a spicy flavor?

8. Is the flesh immediately surrounding the core separated from the rest of the pulp by a line more or less distinct? This is called the core-line and differs in size and outline in different varieties. Can you find any connection between the stem and blossom ends and the core? Can you see the fibrous threads which connect them?

9. Cut an apple transversely across the middle. In what shape are the seed-cells arranged in the center? Do the carpels, or seed-cells, vary in shape in different varieties? Are they closed, or do they all open into a common cavity? Can you see, between the core-lines and the skin, faint little dots? Count, and tell how they are arranged in relation to the star formed by the core.

10. The stiff, parchment-like walls of the seed-cells are called carpels. How many of these does the apple contain? Do all apples have the same number of carpels? Are the carpels of all varieties smooth and glossy, or velvety? How many seeds do you find in a carpel? Do they lie with the points toward the stem-end or the blossom-end of the apple? Where are they attached to the apple? Describe the apple seed—its outer and inner coat and its "meat." Can you find the germ within it which will, after the seed is planted, produce another apple tree?

11. Is the core at the center of the apple, or is it nearer to the stem-end or to the blossom-end of the fruit? Are all apples alike in this particular?

12. Describe fully all the varieties of apples which you know, giving the average size, texture and color of the skin, the shape of the cavities at the stem and blossom ends, the color, texture and flavor of the pulp, and the position within the apple of the core.

Supplementary reading—Trees in Prose and Poetry, pp. 43-59.

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