Wild Apple tree species are natives of all of the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, and are found as far down as the Himalayan mountains and other more southern mountainous areas where the cool air suits the tree.
In its cultivated form it is of course enormously widespread as a garden and orchard tree. People keen to grow it for its lovely fruit have gone through immense troubles to obtain, nurture and grow many varieties of its cultivated forms an these are now spread all over the globe.
It is thought that the ancestors of our edible apples may have been the result of a natural cross-fertilisation between the relatively sweet Malus pumila and Malus sylvestris in the Caucasus and adjoining areas.
The North American Sweet Crab Apple, Malus coronia must have also contributed a lot in developing the variety of lovely apples we can enjoy today.
Traditional Apple growing areas in Britain were Kent, Herefordshire, Worcester and South-West England, but with the increasing practice of transporting food all around the world, the majority of our Apples now come from abroad and the British Apple Industry has sadly seen a huge decline.
Many cultivated Apples have much in common in appearance of leaves and flowers to its wild ancestors (see Crab Apple), but since there are now said to be at least 7000 varieties of cultivated Apples in the World. Sadly this rich treasure of variety in taste, texture, and other important qualities (such as the length of time an apple can be stored, when it produces fruit, its resistance the various pests and diseases, etc,) is now threatened by the fact that only a handful of Apples is grown commercially on a large scale and available to buy in supermarkets. As with the mono-culture of other staple agricultural crops, we make ourselves very vulnerable by depending on just a few varieties
In Britain we have a National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, funded by government and maintained by the Brogdale Horticultural Trust as part of our National Heritage. It has more than 2000 different fruit cultivars.
Wye College (University of London) is responsible for the scientific development of the Collections, which represent a very significant plant genetic resource of value to breeding programmes and other scientific research. The College also maintains fruit reference archives and record files and database of cultivar accessions.
We can all contribute to helping maintain genetic diversity locally. The Wolvercote Community Orchard is a lovely inspiring example of a group of people, who have a established an orchard with many different older varieties and have improving their social life into the bargain. A visit to their website is highly recommended.
Most of our cultivated Apple Trees are produced in nurseries by grafting a small piece of the desired variety (a scion) onto carefully selected stock bred from the Wild Crab Apple.
The vast majority of Apples are not self-fertile and are pollinated by others. This means that Apple seeds will only very rarely produce a tree with fruit similar to its parents, although if you like experimenting (and have the space to do so!) you may create new Apple varieties, which are unique and many of our best Apples have been discovered in this way.