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Fruit Fact: Gravenstein, a variety of apples

Gravenstein is one of those timeless classic heirlooms for which no modern commercial substitute has ever been found. It's path to fame in the United States started with the Russian settlers who brought gravensteins with them as far south as the Sonoma valley. it proved ideally adapted to the coastal valleys of Northern California, where the mild Summer days and cool nights ripen gravensteins to perfection. A whole gravenstein industry sprung up in Sonoma county and thrived until grapvines slowly displaced the apple orchards. Independent of the Russian settlers, gravensteins also remain a very popular and well known apple in most European countries, a true testament to its amazing flavor.

Variety Background:

Most Common Name: Gravenstein
Species: malus domestica seedling
Synonyms: None, but there are also many sports that have been selected over the years with deeper reds; red gravenstein, black gravenstein are two examples.
Origin: The exact origin of Gravenstein is not known and still somewhat under dispute, with the only fact under agreement that it arose sometimes in the 1600's. One claim is that it arose as a chance seedling in the gardens of Duke Augustenberg at Castle Graefenstein in Schleswig-Holstein. Another claim is that the brother of Count Ahlefeldt of Graasten Castle, South Jutland collected collected and sent home scions of "Ville Blanc", an apple from Northern Italy/Southern Tyrol. Either way, it seems to have arrived in Denmark around 1669, and found its way into England in 1820's. From there it made it to the East Coast of the United States via the London Horticultural Society. At about the same time, the Russians brought it to California along the Russian trail. Gravenstein became a major crop in both California and Canada in the late 19th, early 20th century. It also gained popularity throughout Europe.
Patents or Trademarks: None


Description: Medium to large, slightly convex, somewhat ribbed and five crowned, often asymmetrical irregularly shaped fruit with bright red stripes over green going to yellow when fully ripe. Skin becomes greasy after a few days off the tree. Gravenstein apples show tremendous variations in size, shape and color, even from the same tree. About the only consistent trait is the shape of the fruit. Apples from deep in the canopy will be completely green, turning to a gold yellow.

Flavor and tasting notes: The slightly crisp and juicy yellow to cream colored flesh is complex and aromatic, with a sweet-tart balanced flavor that mellows over a short period of 2-3 weeks after harvest. It has a decidedly classic old world apple flavor, somewhat vineous, aromatic and spicy. Gravensteins left to ripen on the kitchen counter are apt to scent the whole house with a delicious aroma of apples.


Gravenstein prefers cooler Summer conditions, and does very well in the cool maritime climates of Northern Europe. It's also well adapted to grow at higher elevations since it's a short season, late blooming apple. it is not an ideal apple for hot Southern Summers. In California, it thrives anywhere where the ocean dampens the Summer heat. It is considered a medium chill apple. It is rarely grown in Southern California as it is both heat sensitive and seems to be sensitive to lack of chill. (Note: gravenstein is a triploid; it cannot pollinate other varieties.) It's worthy to remark that gravenstein is one of those rare apples that is drought tolerant and does not degrade in quality in poor soils.

Bloom Time Rating: F10

Growth Habit:

Very vigorous, upright growth habit. It's not unusual to find giant trees that are up to 30-40 feet tall. Has brown colored bark. Colored sports will have darker bark color.

Vigor: T3

Harvest, storage and consumption:

Gravenstein is a mid Summer apple, ripening in early to mid August along the coast in California. This apple really doesn't store well, going from crisp and juicy to mealy within 6 weeks. Even in prime cold and humid storage, the texture can sometimes remain good for a couple of months, but the flavor goes flat rather quickly.

Begin of Harvest: early Aug
End of Harvest: mid Aug
Stores Until: early Sept


Makes amazing cider and delicious apple sauce.

Eating: Yes
Cooking: Yes
Cider: Yes


Scab Susceptibility: High
Fire Blight Susceptibility: High
Powdery Mildew Susceptibility: medium
Cedar Apple Rust Susceptibility: Unknown
Black Rot Susceptibility: Unknown
Phytopthera Rots Susceptibility: Unknown
Fly Speck Susceptibility: Unknown
Coddling Moth Susceptibility: High

Nurseries that carry this variety:

Widely available from various sources, some of the sports are more difficult to obtain.

Trees of Antiquity

Photo Gallery

Gravensteins in their prime, waiting to be harvested (c) THE Cloudforest Gardener

This picture is a testament to the high degree of variations from one tree to the next; these are almost completely green yet fully ripe. The lack of stripes makes them almost look like different apples. (c) The Cloudforest Gardener

Classic spreading shape of the gravenstein. This is a non-irrigated gravenstein that seems to do quite well in the dry soil in California. Obviously its roots have found groundwater. (c) The Cloudforest Gardener


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