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A Rose by any Name


The capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty (Алматы), formerly known as Alma Ata, has a name derived from the word Apple (Алма).

"Apples, taxonomically, are members of Rosaceae, the Rose family, along with such other yummy edibles as pears, plums, peaches, cherries, strawberries, and raspberries. DNA analysis indicates that apples originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan, where the wild Malus sieversii—the many-times great-grandparent of Malus domestica, the modern domesticated apple—still flourishes."
-National Geographic, History of Apples 

The Rose Family by Robert Frost, 1927, references the reclassification by botanists in the early 1900s of apples and related fruits to the rose family, Rosaceae.

The rose is a rose, And was always a rose. But the theory now goes That the apple’s a rose, And the pear is, and so’s The plum, I suppose. The dear only knows what will next prove a rose. You, of course, are a rose — But were always a rose.

This relationship has more recently been confirmed by genetics studies that find the apple originating from the rose in central and southern China about 40 million years ago.


Venus holds an apple on these ancient coins, a reference to the myth of the golden apple that started the Trojan War. See: The Judgement of Paris.

Roman Empire, Faustina Junior, Augusta, AD 147-175, AR denarius, Rome mint, struck under emperor Antoninus Pius, circa AD 147-150

Obv: Draped bust right, wearing a single circlet of pearls around head

Rev: Venus standing left, holding apple and dolphin-entwined rudder

Ref: RIC III 517c

Galeria Valeria, Augusta, AD 293(?)-311, Æ Follis, Cyzicus mint, 4th officina, struck circa AD 308-309

Obv: Draped bust right, wearing stephane

Rev: Venus standing left, holding apple and drawing drapery from shoulder; Δ|-//MKV.

Ref: RIC VI 46

"If haply, my son, thou hast heard of a son of Priam, one Paris, the splendid youth, who tends his herds on the hills of Troy, give to him the apple; and bid him judge the goddesses’ meeting brows and orbed eyes. And let her that is preferred have the famous fruit to carry away as the prize of the fairer and ornament of the Loves."
-Colluthus, The Rape of Helen p.547, Loeb Classical Library

Mira calligraphiae monumenta : a sixteenth-century calligraphic manuscript inscribed by Georg Bocskay and illuminated by Joris Hoefnagel


Apples grown from seeds are genetically different from their parent so apples are grafted to reproduce specific varieties.

"Here, we investigated the origins of the domesticated apple Malus domestica Borkh., one of the most emblematic and widespread fruit crops in temperate regions. A form of apple corresponding to extant domestic apples appeared in the Near East around 4,000 years ago, at a time corresponding to the first recorded uses of grafting. The domesticated apple was then introduced into Europe and North Africa by the Greeks and Romans and subsequently spread worldwide."
-New Insight into the History of Domesticated Apple, PLoS Genet 2012

From this passage we learn that there were many varieties of apples known to the Romans and that apples were also considered good for health. Columella lived and wrote in the first century, 4 – c. 70 AD.

Moreover, the following kinds of apple should be especially sought after, the Scaudian, the Matian, the Globe-apple, the Cestine, the Pelusian, the Amerian, the Syrian, the Honey-apple and quince (of which there are three kinds, the Sparrow-quince, the Golden quince and the Must-quince). All these cause not only pleasure but also good health.
-Columella, On Agriculture, Book V (p.99), Loeb Classic Library

Pliny's Natural History, 15.15, also include a long collection of apple varieties and reference to grafting and the practice of naming varieties after the one who produced the variety.

"Why should I hesitate to make some mention, too, of other varieties by name, seeing that they have conferred everlasting remembrance on those who were the first to introduce them, as having rendered some service to their fellow-men? Unless I am very much mistaken, an enumeration of them will tend to throw some light upon the ingenuity that is displayed in the art of grafting, and it will be the more easily understood that there is nothing so trifling in itself from which a certain amount of celebrity cannot be ensured."

While in the Old Testament, Genesis refers to an unspecified “fruit”, the apple may have become associated with the "forbidden fruit" because malus in Latin means both "apple" and "evil". The apple seen in this print from Albrecht Dürer, 1505 AD (public domain image thanks to the NY Met)


References (in addition to those linked directly above)

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