Most of the remaining wild, or crab apple trees are to be found in Saxony Anhalt along the Elbe river, and in the southern Black Forest of Baden-Württemberg, the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food said in a statement.
It has just conducted a census of the trees, and found just 244 wild apple populations, with a total of 5,641 individual trees. The average number of trees in each “orchard” is just 23, the office said, adding that many of these were missing the young trees necessary to maintain the population.
The wild apple tree can live for up to 100 years, grow to be up to ten metres tall and need solitary wild bees such as bumble bees rather than honey bees, for pollination. The apples they produce are yellow-green in colour and only up to 35 millimetres in diameter, with a strongly sour taste, but are described as intensely aromatic.
It needs plenty of light, so does best in areas of oak and hornbeam forest. The most important factors for the severe reduction in wild apple population in central Europe were, on the one hand, the massive decimation of the hard wood forests and on the other, the widespread abandonment of small and mid-size farming.
In forests the wild apples were literally starved of light by the newer softwood trees being planted across the country, while they were often cut down from field edges as farming was made more efficient.
Now scientists are working to preserve and encourage those wild apple trees which they have found, by planting seedlings and cutting back trees nearby to ensure they have enough light.