This collection was organized and established by Alfred Johnson, former director of the Arboretum, and was established in 1994. It consists of two distinct sub-collections: Ancestral Varieties, and Heirloom Maine Varieties.
The apple is in the rose family (Rosaceae). It is one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits, and the most widely known member of its genus, Malus. There are well over 7,500 known varieties, with more varieties becoming available to markets daily. Virtually every part of the apple tree is utilized by humans. The fruits yield cider, vinegar, apple pie and dozens of other products. The flowers provide abundant nectar for honey bees resulting in apple blossom honey, prized for its light color and mild flavor. The wood of the apple tree is popular for smoking meats and as a decorative wood used in furniture and carving.
The Heirloom Maine Apple Collection features over 26 unique heirloom apple varieties. Maine has a long history with the apple tree. Dating back to early colonial times, when a fruit was needed to store well in the root cellar, be hardy in our cold climate and be resistant to insect pests, the apple presented a viable solution. Today we have an expansive variety of apple species developed in the State of Maine, some are better for winter storage, cider production, cooking and eating fresh. Next time you visit, try an apple or two to experience a piece of Maine history!
The Heirloom Apple collection was established through collaboration with the Cornell University Plant Genetics Research Unit and the Arnold Arboretum. These trees represent some of the species that were used to develop all varieties of apples known today. The ancestral species from which our cultivated apple came from grew as a native tree in what are now the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan (Lamboy et al. 1998). It also extends into China where pure stands of the species occur in the Ili River Valley in the western part of the Tianshan Mts. and on hillsides in western Junggar (National Environment Protection Bureau 1987, Li-kuo and Jian-ming 1992). The specimens you see are mostly Malus sieversii, Malus kirghisorum and Malus yunanensis. Malus sieversii is believed to be the primary ancestor of the domesticated apple.