Michigan's Apple is an Economic Powerhouse and Scientific Curiosity


Apples waiting to be loaded into the Dexter Cider Mill. Photo by Doug Marrin.

It's apple season in Michigan.

The orchards are alive with vibrant hues of reds, greens, and yellows as trees bend slightly under the weight of their juicy treasures. Area farm stands showcase an array of apple-based treats, from fresh cider to warm pies, evoking memories of autumns past. Indeed, this time of year is a celebration, not just of the apple, but of the traditions, flavors, and memories they bring.

In the heart of Michigan, the apple stands as more than just a delicious treat; it represents an economic titan and sparks global scientific intrigue. Apples have firmly secured their spot in the top three fruits produced globally, making them a staple in households worldwide. Their robust nature allows them to be easily stored and transported, ensuring they grace American shelves throughout the year.

Here are a few Michigan apple facts to impress family, friends, and coworkers:

  • The Michigan apples industry’s annual economic impact is estimated at $700-900 million
  • Michigan ranks 3rd in the nation in apple production
  • There are more than 11.3 million apple trees in commercial production, covering 35,500 acres on 825 family-run farms
  • Michigan harvests about 1.05 billion pounds of apples per year
  • 55% of all Michigan apples are processed into other products
  • Michigan slices more apples than any other state for pies and fresh-cut slices and processes apples into applesauce, fresh and shelf-stable apple cider, and apple juice.
Dexter Lions Club hosts Apple Daze feature a pie eating contest for kids of all ages. Photo by Doug Marrin.

If you want to impress folks with a deeper dive, here’s how the apple gets its shape:

Beyond being a great snack and economic powerhouse, apples have this distinctive dimple or dip at the top where the stem grows. Some scientists and mathematicians were curious about why the apple grows that way.

A team from Harvard decided to observe apples at various stages of their growth. They went to an orchard in the U.K., specifically at Peterhouse College, University of Cambridge (fun fact: Sir Isaac Newton, the gravity-apple guy, studied there).

They used something called "singularity theory" to understand this growth. Singularity theory studies unique, tricky points in math and science. It's about understanding places where things become unpredictable or change fast, whether in shapes, patterns, or other situations.

This mathematical concept can explain various phenomena, from complex things like black holes to everyday observations like the light patterns in a swimming pool. Even though apples and light patterns seem unrelated, they share some similar behaviors.

The researchers did some computer simulations and physical experiments. They created a model of an apple using a special gel that grows. By observing this, they understood that different parts of the apple grow at different rates. This difference in growth rates causes the formation of the dimple (or "cusp"), which is also found on fruits like peaches, apricots, and cherries.

The lead researcher, L Mahadevan, emphasized that understanding the formation of shapes in biology, or "morphogenesis," is a big deal. The humble apple is just a starting point to unravel more about the fascinating ways of nature.

From the hallowed halls of Harvard back to the bustling orchards of Michigan with their vivid autumn palette and the comforting aroma of cider mills and farm stands, these autumnal treasures are firmly ensconced from generations past to those that will come.


Michigan Ag Council

Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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