This Week in History


The Discovery and Development of the McIntosh Apple

This story was initially published in 2005

August 15, 1777, marks the birthday of John McIntosh, the discoverer of the McIntosh apple.

McIntosh Apple Blossoms
McIntosh apple blossoms
© Botanical Society of America
Born in the United States, John McIntosh emigrated to Canada sometime between 1796 and 1801. He purchased a farm in Matilda County, Ontario, and it was there, in 1811, while clearing some land that McIntosh discovered 20 apple trees. He relocated them to a plot beside his home, thereby establishing the first McIntosh orchard in Canada. By 1830, only one of these trees had survived.

In 1836, John’s son Allen learned the art of grafting plants. This process was used to join the stock of an older tree to that of a younger one enabling the younger tree to produce fruit identical to that of the older tree. This practice included taking cuttings from the original tree and binding them to a slit made in the younger tree. The two parts would fuse together with the younger part acting as the root system and the older part as the fruit bearer. It is because of this and other methods of propagation that existing McIntosh trees are directly descended from the one original tree, which grew and produced fruit on the McIntosh farm from 1811 to 1908!

The McIntosh apple, sometimes called the Mac, is characterized by its broad climatic tolerance, which makes it especially suitable to the Canadian climate. For many, its green and red appearance represents what the ideal apple should look like. It is semi-tart in taste, making it an excellent apple for use in deserts or to eat alone, as well as for juices and cider. 

McIntosh Apples
McIntosh Apples
© Parks Canada / Erin Whalen / 2005

Despite the McIntosh family effort to propagate and promote the McIntosh apple there is no written record of the variety before 1876. It did not gain notoriety until the late-19th century.

The apple comprises the most important fruit crop in Canada and is the fourth most important worldwide. Today the Mac and its hybrid varieties, the Spartan and the Cortland, account for more than 50 per cent of the apple crop in Canada.

In 1999, the discovery and development of the McIntosh Apple was designated a National Historic Event of Canada and, in 2001, a plaque was erected in Dundela, Ontario.

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