Monthly Archives: October 2015

Apples of Evil: Three Eerie Fruit Folktales

In the Garden of Eden, Eve offers Adam the apple. Line engraving by C. Galle after G.B. Paggi. Iconographic Collections Keywords: Johannes Carolus Avria; Cornelis Galle; Adam; Giovanni Battista Paggi; Eve

(The father of all evil apple stories?) In the Garden of Eden, Eve offers Adam the apple. Line engraving by Cornelis Galle after Giovanni Battista Paggi, via Wikimedia Commons.


For your Halloween pleasure! Sheryl is a favorite garden artist/writer/greenwoman, and friend. She’s the author of The Haunted Garden: Death and Transfiguration in the Folklore of Plants, a deliciously creepy book on plant lore. I love her paintings as well, which were featured here a couple of years ago and in my article in US Represented this summer. You can see more of her amazing work here.

And now, her eerie apple stories!

Happy Halloween!

–Sandra Knauf

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A curious fact: The Latin words for “apple” and “evil” are the same: malum. This is odd, considering that the apple tree–fair of flower and of fruit–has many positive associations, and is celebrated with cheerful rhymes, stories, songs, and festivals. Nevertheless, an exploration of apples in folklore and legend does reveal a darker aspect.

It is apt that Pomona, the ancient Roman goddess of fruit, is sometimes depicted as a young woman holding an apple in one hand and a formidable-looking pruning knife or a sickle in the other. As demonstrated in the following tales, the Brothers Grimm story of Snow White, with its wicked queen who tries to kill her stepdaughter via a poisoned apple, is not the only folktale linking an apple with murder.

The Legend of Micah Rood

According to folklorist Charles Skinner, there was once a popular variety of American apple called Micah Rood, or Bloody Hearts. These apples were said to be “sweet of flavor, fragrant, handsomely red outside, and while most of the flesh is white, there is at the core a red spot that represents human blood.” A story was traced back to Franklin, Connecticut, where a farmer named Micah Rood lived in the late 1700s. In those times much commerce was done with itinerant peddlers, and these early traveling salesmen sometimes fell victim to violence because of the purses of money they might be carrying.

A peddler who had recently been trading with the local citizens was found dead under an apple tree on Micah Rood’s farm, his skull cracked open and his money stolen. Rood was suspected of murder, but there was no proof. He became a recluse to shut out the whisperings of his neighbors.

Later that year, the story goes, the tree on which the unfortunate victim had bled and died bore red apples instead of its normal yellow ones. And from then on the tree’s fruit had the red mark at the core, like a bloodstain. It was said that every apple was a curse on Micah Rood; he and his farm fell into decay and disrepair, and he died. The tree lived on, and grafts from it spread the apple to orchards across Connecticut and other states. The variety was said to have been widely cultivated, but I have not been able to find a Micah Rood apple available today. If it did really exist, I fear it has been lost like so many other early heirloom varieties.

The Bloody Ploughman

Luckily a similar heirloom variety of apple, also with a gruesome legend and a sensational appearance, still thrives in the United Kingdom. The Bloody Ploughman apple was first recorded in 1883, in Scotland. Like the Micah Rood apple, it has red “bloodstains” in its flesh, and dark, blood-red skin.

The tale behind the name is that a laborer was regularly stealing apples from a Scottish estate, but he got caught and was shot dead. His widow threw the apples out onto the midden with the refuse, thinking them unlucky. A tree sprouted there, grew into a tree, bore new apples, and was given a spooky new name. Bloody Ploughman apples are said to be juicy and crisp, a mid-season variety when grown in southeast England.


Apples_Apfelsorten_Diel-Lucas Image from the 6th edition of Meyers großem Konversationslexikon (1885–90), via Wikimedia Commons.

Image from the 6th edition of Meyers großem Konversationslexikon (1885–90), via Wikimedia Commons.


The Apple Girl

One of the most popular of the stories collected and retold by Italo Calvino in his Italian Folktales is “Apple Girl” (condensed and paraphrased here by me). Even though murder is attempted only indirectly in the tale, the imagery and rather nonsensical plot are eerie unto themselves:

A childless king and queen wished for a baby. The queen wondered why she couldn’t bear children the way an apple tree produces apples. Soon enough, she gave birth–to an apple. It was an exceptionally beautiful apple, and the king displayed it on a tray of gold, on his balcony. One day, another king glanced at the balcony and saw a lovely young woman, bathing and combing her hair. When she saw him, she ran to the apple, dove in, and disappeared. But this king had already fallen in love with her.

The king begged Apple Girl’s parents to give him the apple. They refused, but finally gave in to keep the peace with their royal neighbor. He took the apple home to his own chambers, and laid out everything Apple Girl needed: a golden fruit bowl, a comb, and water. Apple Girl would emerge from the fruit each morning; all she would do was comb her hair and perform her ablutions. She never spoke, and never ate.

The king kept to his chambers so much that his stepmother became suspicious. She wanted to know what he was up to. When he had to go off to fight in a war, he left the care of the magical apple to his most trustworthy servant. But as soon as the king left, the stepmother managed to sneak into his rooms. The only thing unusual she saw there was the magnificent apple in its golden bowl. Out of pure spite, she stabbed the apple all over with a small dagger she kept hidden in her gown. The apple began to bleed red blood out of every wound, and the wicked stepmother ran away in terror.

When the servant found the bloody scene, he panicked. The king would kill him for failing to protect the apple. Luckily, the servant had an aunt with knowledge of magical powders. She blended the right mix for him, which he sprinkled on the apple’s wounds. Instantly the apple split open, and out came Apple Girl, covered in bandages.

The king returned from war, and Apple Girl spoke her first words to him. She told him how she had been under a spell, and how his stepmother had almost killed her but that the servant had saved her. Apple Girl married the king and they lived happily near her parents; the stepmother fled and was never seen again.

© 2015 by Sheryl Humphrey. All rights reserved.

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Further Reading

Calvino, Italo. Italian Folktales. Translated by George Martin. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1980 [originally published 1956 in Italian by Giulio Einaudi, Torino].

Garden Apple I.D. website: .

Humphrey, Sheryl. The Haunted Garden: Death and Transfiguration in the Folklore of Plants. Self-published, 2012. [The stories of Micah Rood and Bloody Ploughman in this post are excerpted, in slightly edited form, from this book.]

Skinner, Charles M. Myths and Legends of Flowers, Trees, Fruits, and Plants in All Ages and in All Climes. Amsterdam: Fredonia Books, 2002 [reprinted from the 1911 edition]

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Photo by Sheryl's husband, Edward Coppola.

Photo by Sheryl’s husband, Edward Coppola.


Sheryl Humphrey is an artist in Staten Island, NY; see her art at She is also the author of The Haunted Garden: Death and Transfiguration in the Folklore of Plants, available at

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Growing October by Pat Kennelly

“Young Girl Carrying a Pumpkin” by Fausto Zonaro, via Wikimedia Commons

Pat Kennelly and I met in the garden. The virtual garden, that is. Years ago she noticed my first blog, Greenwoman Zine, where I was writing about my community garden experiences and and my new publishing venture. She wrote me, and I was excited to learn we lived in the same town. We met and a friendship bloomed. We feel that gardens are places of magic, places to play, to create, and cultivate plants that nourish the mind and soul. We’ve shared plants: dahlias, tomatoes, succulents, and more, and when we were checking in the other day we started talking about Halloween. “Do you have a poem about the garden in fall?” I asked. She sent me the one below, and I said, “Tell me more!”

–Sandra Knauf

Growing October

By the garage—
in that poor soil
where nothing grows
except hens and chickens
and velvety lamb’s ears
I plant October.

When I find them, in the late afternoon light,
I want to lie with them, waxy and smooth yet stippled
with scar tissue. When they were green, ghostly,
we carved our names into their soft skin.
Now their leaves gently brush my cheek,
they wrap their tendrils around my wrist
pulling me in.

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Pat shares this about her poem and her gardening:

I wrote this poem in 2012 after I literally fell into the spot where I was growing larger pumpkins next to the garage. I was riding my bike and was overloaded with books from the library . . . I lay there, hoping no one saw me. It was so peaceful among the vines, the poem came to me. I never did write my name in a pumpkin, but I read you could do that (pumpkin scarring). In the last three years, I haven’t grown pumpkins. They take up so much room and I fell hard for the flowers in the garden. But I did love growing them.

I’ve been gardening since I moved to Colorado. I’ve always been drawn to the beauty and informality of cottage gardens. I love growing herbs and vegetables alongside climbing roses, grape vines, and an abundance of old fashioned flowers including dahlias, zinnias, sweet peas, day lilies, bachelor buttons, sweet William, poppies, and native Colorado wildflowers and grasses. And like most gardens mine has evolved over the years, I still have space for herbs, onions and garlic but the last few years the bed for vegetables has been sacrificed, I willingly let the flowers take over. For many years I grew pumpkins, mostly the smaller ones or odd ones I couldn’t find easily in Colorado like ‘Lumina,’ or ‘Baby Boo’ or ‘Jack Be Little’. The larger pumpkins, I grew outside of the garden fence where they had room to spread their vines and leaves with abandon.

pumpkins and dahlias.JPG

Pumpkins from Pat’s garden. Photo by Pat Kennelly.

Pat Kennelly headshot BW-1 - squared (2)

Pat Kennelly is a poet and writer who lives and gardens in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She often incorporates the natural world and the beauty of place into her poetry. Most recently her work has appeared in Poet’s Market, Messages From the Hidden Lake, and Haibun Today.


Filed under Garden Writers We Love, Green Poetry

“Plight of a Peony” by Hilary Hauck

'Strawberry Swirl' peony; image by Hilary Hauck

The luscious ‘Strawberry Swirl’ peony. Photo by Hilary Hauck.

Hilary was very gracious to share one of her poems and a little write up of her memories gardening in England–with her mum! I’m sure you’ll enjoy both as much as I did. It’s so fun to get to know our readers. Thanks, Hilary!

–Sandra Knauf

Plight of a Peony

Beneath luxuriant massage of
ant paws tromping nectar,
petals in fierce embrace
play their favorite guessing game
nymph or no nymph?

Weary of mischief the layered clasp allows
translucent ruffles to escape with
ethereal scent of coveted infusion
in bow of elegant piousness
king of flowers.

Devil–may-care of fleetingness,
the peony regales with pageantry of beetles
spelunking in search of a cure,
strawberry swirl feast fit for a fly
subject of art.

Graceful to the end, tinged plumes
expose bounty woodpeckers peck eyes for,
arranging piles of concluding goodness,
plush swirls in final offering
wilted banquet for crawlers and mud.

"Feast Fly" photo by Hilary Hauck.

“Feast Fly” photo by Hilary Hauck.


I inherited my love of gardens from my Mum, if I may keep the British spelling. Some of my earliest memories are tagging along as she tended the garden (or yard, as you might call it) of an elderly lady in our village in Kent. Mostly I remember smells and textures—damp soil, windfall apples, a creosote shed, moss in unexpected places. It was better than any playground, a jungle of hiding spots amongst plants taller than I was. Every inch of earth was intentionally occupied—the best way to prevent weeds from encroaching, a philosophy Mum still swears by today. When I think of Mum, I think of gardens. The thing I miss most about home on the other side of the ocean is her garden.

A few years ago, my husband and I built a house at the end of a dirt road in the woods of Pennsylvania. Long before we were able to lay a lawn, I spent hours digging clay, amending it with manure and peat. I transplanted favorite perennials from our old house, some my Mum planted, including two peonies which astound me each year with the generosity of their blooms. And then there were the car-fulls of lily of the valley, irises, phlox, columbine, and many other plants my mother-in-law (spelled Mom) dug from her yard in Ohio, along with roses of Sharon and a trumpet vine that originated in her sister’s yard in New York. Our garden still needs a lot of shaping and taming, a process taking longer than we expected, but there’s something poignant about the way it has come into being as a sprawling happenchance. Quite fitting like a rooting of new family ties, a grafting together of family traditions.

–Hilary Hauck


Hilary’s photo by her husband, Darryl Hauck.

Hilary Hauck grew up in Kent, a county also known as the Garden of England. She spent much of her young adult life in Italy, where she taught English as a Foreign Language and studied another of her great passions, cooking. She married Darryl and moved to Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. Between them they have 3 children and 2 grandchildren. Hilary is a freelance translator of Italian, and she writes fiction and poetry.

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