Why do apples grow on trees?

I was asked to write about why apples grow on trees. Honest. So, in order to not let ‘@Albert#’ down, let’s look into why apples grow on trees.

Ask the more ignorant why apples grow on trees and they will fix their gaze into the middle distance and trance-like answer that apples grow on trees because of their god’s will.  For them, the matter is then closed and cannot be subjected to any more scrutiny.

Anybody daring to want to know more or to truly understand the technicalities will then be treated with suspicion.  The reason for this is that the apple and its tree feature as a crucial part of their religious beliefs.

Indeed, shared between Jews, Muslims and Christians is the belief that the Middle Eastern god told their ancestors – well, the first man and woman – not to eat apples.  In a weird and somewhat illogical ‘given’, they were tempted by a talking snake, ate the apple and suddenly realised they were naked.  Yes, it does sound like the apples may have fermented, caused them to get very drunk and then feel very guilty the next morning (as you do).  The whole tale makes no real sense, but it does help show that the apple tree has been around since before biblical times.  Science can prove that of course, but even the religious have to agree.

Indeed, some far older religions also have apples as mystical ‘forbidden fruit’.  In some they were offered to the gods in order to give them eternal youthfulness.  I guess this was a very early version of “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”.  They seem to feature in a lot of the legends and myths and important people were buried with huge quantities of apples in baskets.  I guess this was in case they woke up and realised they’d been buried alive. At least they wouldn’t go hungry.    

The apple tree is not the only plant that uses the concept of providing food for animals, birds and insects in return for assistance in its reproductive cycle.  Fruit by its very nature contains seeds.  Seeds contain all the information and matter needed in order to grow a further tree.  The trick is getting the seed to move as far away from its parent tree as possible.  This is where the assistance of animals and birds comes in useful in what is actually quite a beautiful truly symbiotic relationship, with nobody losing out.  Having fed on the fruit, in this case the apple, consuming one or more of the ten seeds (‘pips’) as well (it’s only humans who seem to put their noses up at consuming them), the animal will then wander off.

Cleverly, seeds are designed to resist being broken down and absorbed within the digestive system, but to exit intact some days later along with all other waste matter.  Nice.  Still, one man’s pooh is another man’s fertiliser.  Add to this the fact that some animals in fear of giving their location away to their predators will bury their pooh, and you’ve got a conveniently carefully yet unwittingly planted new apple tree in the making.  It’s a sobering thought that under each apple tree is a pile of pooh. It makes them so much more golden delicious.

Confusingly, about five months before the apples containing the seeds can be made the apple tree goes through a process of needing bees to pollinate its flowers.  I don’t understand why this complex extra bit of the apple tree cycle is necessary.  Surely it could evolve out of it and we just have the apple part, but no. Instead, the apple will only grow after the rose-like flowers have been visited by the bees.  I suspect this is because the apple tree is part of the rose family and so brings with it some rose habits like flowering and pollination and all that malarkey.  If I was designing an apple tree from scratch I’d make its 57,000 genes (and why does it have more genes than us, eh?) not bother with the pointless flowering part of its life.

Nevertheless, if apples didn’t grow on trees then the apple trees would die out and be lost and gone forever.  So too would the animals that rely on the apple in order to live, including the unwelcome ‘worms’ and ‘maggots’ that will hatch inside the apple. Growing on trees keeps apples away for as long and as much as they can from the ‘unwelcome’, yet show themselves to the eyeline of the animals who must pick and eat them in order for both species to survive and reproduce. It’s all a win-win situation, and exactly why apples grow on trees! 


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