The Secrets of the Trees
We hold our Mystic Magic in the Forest weekend retreats at Rosliston, in Rosliston National Forest, near Burton upon Trent, just south of Derby in the Midlands. Our retreats are themed, but often include an appreciation of nature, walks, the significance of trees in Spiritual and Pagan history, and their myths and legends
This blog charts the story, in instalments, of those trees, and all of those to be found at Rosliston, around forty species. Each tree is to be found at Rosliston, but may also be found more widely around Great Britain, Europe, North America and beyond.
In these blogs I describe each tree, explain where they are found, what their history is and how they have related to our history. I also explore the myths and legends surrounding the trees in different countries and from different traditions as well as how herbalists have used them to treat human conditions and how products from the trees have been used throughout history.
I hope that you enjoy reading these tree blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them for you. If you would like to come and see them in their natural habitat why not join us for one of our retreats?
Apple- malus domestica
An apple is a sweet, edible fruit produced by an apple tree (Malus pumila). Apple trees are cultivated worldwide and are the most widely grown species in the genus Malus. The tree originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today.
Apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe and were brought to North America by European colonists. Apples have religious and mythological significance in many cultures, including Norse, Greek and European Christian traditions.
Apple trees are large if grown from seed. Generally, apple cultivars are propagated by grafting onto rootstocks, which control the size of the resulting tree. There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples, resulting in a range of desired characteristics. Different cultivars are bred for various tastes and uses, including cooking, eating raw and cider production.
Trees and fruit are prone to a number of fungal, bacterial and pest problems, which can be controlled by a number of organic and non-organic means. In 2010, the fruit’s genome was sequenced as part of research on disease control and selective breeding in apple production.
Worldwide production of apples in 2014 was 84.6 million tonnes, with China accounting for 48% of the total.
The apple is a deciduous tree, generally standing 6 to 15 ft (1.8 to 4.6 m) tall in cultivation and up to 30 ft (9.1 m) in the wild. When cultivated, the size, shape and branch density are determined by rootstock selection and trimming method. The leaves are alternately arranged dark green-coloured simple ovals with serrated margins and slightly downy undersides.Blossoms are produced in spring simultaneously with the budding of the leaves, and are produced on spurs and some long shoots.
The 3 to 4 cm (1.2 to 1.6 in) flowers are white with a pink tinge that gradually fades, five petaled, with an inflorescence consisting of a cyme with 4–6 flowers. The central flower of the inflorescence is called the “king bloom”; it opens first and can develop a larger fruit. The fruit matures in late summer or autumn, and cultivars exist with a wide range of sizes.
The centre of diversity of the genus Malus is in eastern present-day Turkey. The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated, and its fruits have been improved through selection over thousands of years. Alexander the Great is credited with finding dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan in 328 BCE. Winter apples, picked in late autumn and stored just above freezing, have been an important food in Asia and Europe for millennia.
Of the many Old World plants that the Spanish introduced to Chiloé Archipelago in the 16th century, apple trees became particularly well adapted. Apples were introduced to North America by colonists in the 17th century and the first apple orchard on the North American continent was planted in Boston by Reverend William Blaxton in 1625. The only apples native to North America are crab apples, which were once called “common apples”.
Apple cultivars brought as seed from Europe were spread along Native American trade routes, as well as being cultivated on colonial farms. An 1845 United States apples nursery catalogue sold 350 of the “best” cultivars, showing the proliferation of new North American cultivars by the early 19th century. In the 20th century, irrigation projects in Eastern Washington began and allowed the development of the multibillion-dollar fruit industry, of which the apple is the leading product.
Until the 20th century, farmers stored apples in frost-proof cellars during the winter for their own use or for sale. Improved transportation of fresh apples by train and road replaced the necessity for storage. Controlled atmosphere facilities are used to keep apples fresh year-round. Controlled atmosphere facilities use high humidity, low oxygen, and controlled carbon dioxide levels to maintain fruit freshness. They were first used in the United States in the 1960s.
In Norse mythology, the goddess Iðunn is portrayed in the Prose Edda (written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson) as providing apples to the gods that give them eternal youthfulness. English scholar H. R. Ellis Davidson links apples to religious practices in Germanic paganism, from which Norse paganism developed.
She points out that buckets of apples were found in the Oseberg ship burial site in Norway, and that fruit and nuts (Iðunn having been described as being transformed into a nut in Skáldskaparmál) have been found in the early graves of the Germanic peoples in England and elsewhere on the continent of Europe, which may have had a symbolic meaning, and that nuts are still a recognized symbol of fertility in southwest England.
Davidson notes a connection between apples and the Vanir, a tribe of gods associated with fertility in Norse mythology, citing an instance of eleven “golden apples” being given to woo the beautiful Gerðr by Skírnir, who was acting as messenger for the major Vanir god Freyr in stanzas 19 and 20 of Skírnismál. Davidson also notes a further connection between fertility and apples in Norse mythology in chapter 2 of the Völsunga saga when the major goddess Frigg sends King Rerir an apple after he prays to Odin for a child, Frigg’s messenger (in the guise of a crow) drops the apple in his lap as he sits atop a mound. Rerir’s wife’s consumption of the apple results in a six-year pregnancy and the Caesarean section birth of their son—the hero Völsung.
Further, Davidson points out the “strange” phrase “Apples of Hel” used in an 11th-century poem by the skald Thorbiorn Brúnarson. She states this may imply that the apple was thought of by Brúnarson as the food of the dead. Further, Davidson notes that the potentially Germanic goddess Nehalennia is sometimes depicted with apples and that parallels exist in early Irish stories.
Davidson asserts that while cultivation of the apple in Northern Europe extends back to at least the time of the Roman Empire and came to Europe from the Near East, the native varieties of apple trees growing in Northern Europe are small and bitter. Davidson concludes that in the figure of Iðunn “we must have a dim reflection of an old symbol: that of the guardian goddess of the life-giving fruit of the other world.”
Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit. One of the problems identifying apples in religion, mythology and folktales is that the word “apple” was used as a generic term for all (foreign) fruit, other than berries, including nuts, as late as the 17th century. For instance, in Greek mythology, the Greek hero Heracles, as a part of his Twelve Labours, was required to travel to the Garden of the Hesperides and pick the golden apples off the Tree of Life growing at its centre.
The Greek goddess of discord, Eris, became disgruntled after she was excluded from the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. In retaliation, she tossed a golden apple inscribed Καλλίστη (Kalliste, sometimes transliterated Kallisti, “For the most beautiful one”), into the wedding party. Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Paris of Troy was appointed to select the recipient. After being bribed by both Hera and Athena, Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. He awarded the apple to Aphrodite, thus indirectly causing the Trojan War.
The apple was thus considered, in ancient Greece, to be sacred to Aphrodite, and to throw an apple at someone was to symbolically declare one’s love; and similarly, to catch it was to symbolically show one’s acceptance of that love. An epigram claiming authorship by Plato states.
I throw the apple at you, and if you are willing to love me, take it and share your girlhood with me; but if your thoughts are what I pray they are not, even then take it, and consider how short-lived is beauty.
— Plato, Epigram VII
Atalanta, also of Greek mythology, raced all her suitors in an attempt to avoid marriage. She outran all but Hippomenes (also known as Melanion, a name possibly derived from melon the Greek word for both “apple” and fruit in general), who defeated her by cunning, not speed. Hippomenes knew that he could not win in a fair race, so he used three golden apples (gifts of Aphrodite, the goddess of love) to distract Atalanta. It took all three apples and all of his speed, but Hippomenes was finally successful, winning the race and Atalanta’s hand.
Though the forbidden fruit of Eden in the Book of Genesis is not identified, popular Christian tradition has held that it was an apple that Eve coaxed Adam to share with her. The origin of the popular identification with a fruit unknown in the Middle East in biblical times is found in confusion between the Latin words mālum (an apple) and mălum (an evil), each of which is normally written malum.
The tree of the forbidden fruit is called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in Genesis 2:17, and the Latin for “good and evil” is bonum et malum.
Renaissance painters may also have been influenced by the story of the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides. As a result, in the story of Adam and Eve, the apple became a symbol for knowledge, immortality, temptation, the fall of man into sin, and sin itself.
The larynx in the human throat has been called the “Adam’s apple” because of a notion that it was caused by the forbidden fruit remaining in the throat of Adam.The apple as symbol of sexual seduction has been used to imply human sexuality, possibly in an ironic vein.
There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples.
Many apples grow readily from seeds. However, more than with most most perennial fruits, apples must be propagated asexually by grafting to obtain the sweetness and other desirable characteristics of the parent. This is because seedling apples are an example of “extreme heterozygotes”, in that rather than inheriting genes from their parents to create a new apple with parental characteristics, they are instead significantly different from their parents, perhaps to compete with the many pests.
Because apples do not breed true when planted as seeds, grafting is generally used to produce new apple trees. The rootstock used for the bottom of the graft can be selected to produce trees of a large variety of sizes, as well as changing the winter hardiness, insect and disease resistance, and soil preference of the resulting tree. Dwarf rootstocks can be used to produce very small trees (less than 3.0 m (10 ft) high at maturity), which bear fruit earlier in their life cycle than full size trees. Dwarf rootstocks for apple trees can be traced as far back as 300 BC, to the area of Persia and Asia Minor. Alexander the Great sent samples of dwarf apple trees to Aristotle’s Lyceum.
Dwarf rootstocks became common by the 15th century, and later went through several cycles of popularity and decline throughout the world. The majority of the rootstocks used today to control size in apples were developed in England in the early 1900s. The East Malling Research Station conducted extensive research into rootstocks, and today their rootstocks are given an “M” prefix to designate their origin. Rootstocks marked with an “MM” prefix are Malling-series cultivars later crossed with trees of ‘Northern Spy’ in Merton, England.
Most new apple cultivars originate as seedlings, which either arise by chance or are bred by deliberately crossing cultivars with promising characteristics. The words “seedling”, “pippin”, and “kernel” in the name of an apple cultivar suggest that it originated as a seedling. Apples can also form bud sports (mutations on a single branch). Some bud sports turn out to be improved strains of the parent cultivar. Some differ sufficiently from the parent tree to be considered new cultivars.
Since the 1930s, the Excelsior Experiment Station at the University of Minnesota has introduced a steady progression of important apples that are widely grown, both commercially and by local orchardists, throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. Its most important contributions have included ‘Haralson’ (which is the most widely cultivated apple in Minnesota), ‘Wealthy’, ‘Honeygold’, and ‘Honeycrisp’.
Apples have been acclimatized in Ecuador at very high altitudes, where they can often, with the needed factors, provide crops twice per year because of constant temperate conditions year-round.
Apples are self-incompatible; they must cross-pollinate to develop fruit. During the flowering each season, apple growers often utilize pollinators to carry pollen. Honey bees are most commonly used. Orchard mason bees are also used as supplemental pollinators in commercial orchards. Bumblebee queens are sometimes present in orchards, but not usually in enough quantity to be significant pollinators.
Apple trees are susceptible to a number of fungal and bacterial diseases and insect pests. Many commercial orchards pursue a program of chemical sprays to maintain high fruit quality, tree health, and high yields. A trend in orchard management is the use of organic methods.  These prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, though some older pesticides are allowed. Organic methods include, for instance, introducing its natural predator to reduce the population of a particular pest.
A wide range of pests and diseases can affect the plant; three of the more common diseases/pests are mildew, aphids and apple scab.
Mildew: which is characterized by light grey powdery patches appearing on the leaves, shoots and flowers, normally in spring. The flowers will turn a creamy yellow color and will not develop correctly. This can be treated in a manner not dissimilar from treating Botrytis; eliminating the conditions which caused the disease in the first place and burning the infected plants are among the recommended actions to take.
Aphids: There are five species of aphids commonly found on apples: apple grain aphid, rosy apple aphid, apple aphid, spirea aphid and the woolly apple aphid. The aphid species can be identified by their color, the time of year when they are present and by differences in the cornicles, which are small paired projections from the rear of aphids. Aphids feed on foliage using needle-like mouth parts to suck out plant juices. When present in high numbers, certain species reduce tree growth and vigor.
Apple scab: Apple scab causes leaves to develop olive-brown spots with a velvety texture that later turn brown and become cork-like in texture. The disease also affects the fruit, which also develops similar brown spots with velvety or cork-like textures. Apple scab is spread through fungus growing in old apple leaves on the ground and spreads during warm spring weather to infect the new year’s growth.
Among the most serious disease problems are fireblight, a bacterial disease; and Gymnosporangium rust, and black spot, two fungal diseases. Codling moths and apple maggots are two other pests which affect apple trees. Young apple trees are also prone to mammal pests like mice and deer, which feed on the soft bark of the trees, especially in winter.
The larvae of the apple clearwing moth (red-belted clearwing) burrow through the bark and into the phloem of apple trees, potentially causing significant damage.
The whole fruit including the skin, except for the seeds, is suitable for human consumption. The core, containing the seeds, is usually not eaten and is discarded.
Apples can be consumed various ways: juice, raw in salads, baked in pies, cooked into sauces, and other baked dishes.
Several techniques are used to preserve apples and apple products. Apples can be canned, dried or frozen. Canned or frozen apples are eventually baked into pies or other cooked dishes. Apple juice or cider is also bottled. Apple juice is often concentrated and frozen.
Apples are often eaten raw. Cultivars bred for raw consumption are termed dessert or table apples.
In the UK, a toffee apple is a traditional confection made by coating an apple in hot toffee and allowing it to cool. Similar treats in the U.S. are candy apples (coated in a hard shell of crystallized sugar syrup), and caramel apples (coated with cooled caramel). Apples are eaten with honey at the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a sweet new year.
Apples are an important ingredient in many desserts, such as apple pie, apple crumble, apple crisp and apple cake. When cooked, some apple cultivars easily form a puree known as apple sauce. Apples are also made into apple butter and apple jelly. They are often baked or stewed and are also (cooked) in some meat dishes. Dried apples can be eaten or reconstituted (soaked in water, alcohol or some other liquid).
Apples are milled or pressed to produce apple juice, which may be drunk unfiltered (called apple cider in North America), or filtered. Filtered juice is often concentrated and frozen to be reconstituted later and consumed. Apple juice can be fermented to make cider (called hard cider in North America), ciderkin, and vinegar. Through distillation, various alcoholic beverages can be produced, such as applejack, Calvados, and apfelwein.
The proverb “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, addressing the health effects of the fruit, dates from 19th century Wales, according to Caroline Taggart, author of “An Apple a Day: Old-Fashioned Proverbs and Why They Still Work”. The original phrase, Taggart said, was: “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread”.
In the 19th century and early 20th, the phrase evolved to “an apple a day, no doctor to pay” and “an apple a day sends the doctor away”, while the phrasing now commonly used was first recorded in 1922.
A single spray of apple blossom flowering among ripe apples augurs a death in the family.