Apples Right Side Up

By Kelly Finan

In the fading light of mid-October I’m suffering from apple exhaustion.

Apples floated before my eyes as the first fallen leaves dusted my route from Vermont to Pennsylvania. I raided my father’s apple tree with such tenacity that he demanded I wear a helmet, then I attacked the neighbor’s trees. I made applesauce until I ran out of mouths to feed and canning jars to fill. Bursting with pride (and applesauce), I shuttled the remaining fruit back to Burlington, where it became the star of a dessert for the season’s first potluck.

Upon arriving at the event, I unveiled my creation and placed it among the other dishes. It accompanied…

…three apple pies. And nothing else.

The potluck’s four guests ate only apple desserts. In true Burlington spirit, someone arrived with a quinoa dish, but the damage was done. I was sick of apples.

But like a true naturalist, when I’m sad, I look to botany for comfort. I harkened back to a time when fruit was a buffet of discovery, not a monoculture of boredom. And I remembered this:

An apple, right-side-up

From a botanist’s perspective, I had been looking at the apple upside-down.

Along with pears, cherries, strawberries, and many other delectable fruits, apples are a member of the Rosaceae (rose) family. After an apple blossom’s sticky stigma snags a pollen grain, the sperm nuclei escape the pollen to travel down a tube to the ovule of the flower, where fertilization occurs and seeds begin to form. In the case of apples, fertilization triggers swelling at the base of the flower; the developing seeds are quickly swallowed by fleshy fruit. In the end, a comparatively grotesque apple dangles where a delicate flower once grew. All that remains of the flower are five pointy little protrusions in a star shape at the “bottom” of the apple. The twig that once served as the blossom’s stem emerges from the “top” of the apple.

apple-growth-1200

My personal apple renaissance was more than just the rediscovery of a piece of fruit. It reminded me that, in the world of a naturalist, we will never be bored as long as we remember that there’s always more to be discovered. We just have to keep changing our perspectives.

Kelly Finan is a scientific illustrator from Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania. When she’s not entertaining comments about her hometown’s silly name, she can be found in the woods, on a snowboard, or in a thrift store cultivating her unusual interest in other people’s stuff.

One thought on “Apples Right Side Up

  1. Colin Peacock

    Nice post, Kelly! I was curious what materials/process you use when doing your illustrations. I’d love to learn how you do it. Maybe a field walk with that intention, or set up a tutorial for those of us that are interested?

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