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Sep 26

Johnny Appleseed Day

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Crabapple blossoms
Malus floribunda
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According to Henry David Thoreau, an apple grown from seed tastes “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.”

John Chapman (September 26, 1774 – March 18, 1845), better known as Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia. Because his Swedenborgian church forbade grafting, the apples he planted were from seed, yielding the wild bitter and sour crabapples, which were more suited to the making of hard cider, a staple beverage of the American frontier.

Johnny Appleseed is an American folk hero based on frontier nurseryman John Chapman, who established orchards throughout the American Midwest.

Born September 26, 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts.  In 1792, 18 year old John persuaded his 11-year-old half-brother Nathaniel to go west with him.  The duo apparently lived a nomadic life until their father brought the rest of the family to meet up with them in 1805 in Ohio to start farming.  John left the farm to begin an apprenticeship as an orchardist under a Mr. Crawford, who had apple orchards, thus inspiring his life's journey of planting apple trees.

The trees that Chapman planted had multiple purposes, although they did not yield edible fruit. The small, tart crabapples were rich in pectin and useful primarily to make hard cider and applejack, bringing alcohol to the frontier.  Planting orchards were one way of serving the critical legal purpose of establishing land claims along the frontier. 

Known for his eccentricities in later life, which included a threadbare wardrobe, no shoes, and a tin hat,  John Chapman was a staunch believer in animal rights and denounced cruelty towards all living things, including insects. He was a practicing vegetarian in his later years, and did not believe in marriage, expecting to be rewarded in heaven for his abstinence.

Johnny Appleseed is remembered in American popular culture by his traveling song or Swedenborgian hymn:


"The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the appleseed. The Lord is good to me. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen."

This beautiful tartan, designed by Carol A.L. Martin, was inspired by her own flowering apple and crabapple trees.

For more about the real Johnny Appleseed, click the crabapple tree in bloom.