All about apples, pears, plums, and cherries - and orchards where they are grown

Northern Spy apple


Northern Spy is a very old-fashioned American variety which retains its popularity.  It is a typical winter apple variety, picked in late October or early November, and then used through the winter months.  It keeps in a cold store well into spring.

Northern Spy is well known for its winter-hardiness.  It is a naturally vigorous variety which will produce a relatively large tree, however whilst it grows strongly it can take longer than most apple varieties to come into bearing, and it also has a tendency to lapse into biennial bearing.

Northern Spy can also be used as a rootstock for other varieties.  It is one of the parents of the popular MM106 apple rootstock - more info here - and was chosen specifically because of its resistance to woolly aphid.



Northern Spy identification photos from official fruit collections

UK National Fruit Collection

©Crown Copyright more >
UK National Fruit Collection

Northern Spy identification photos from website visitors

  • Northern Spy appleNorthern Spy apple

Visitor reviews

  • 07 Aug 2016  Scottmartin49@Hotmail.Com,  NEW YORK, United States
    14 years until first bloom on our full size specimen. Needs heavy pruning to develop a strong and spreading structure- wants to grow pyramidally, with many small branches. Good central leader persistence and sound branching. Lots of wood and leaf when grown in a fertile spot. Extremely late leaf out, while holding leaves well into December, which can be a problem when early (wet) snow bends the branches. Due to the lateness of leaf out, this is an excellent variety for understory cropping, lawn, or pasture- we grow strawberries, peas, or early potatoes under it. Large and attractive tree for landscaping. We're in zone 4b, on a dense silt loam, somewhat poorly drained/some panning @ 14-20". 50-60" annual precip- evenly spread- with 160-220" of snowfall. Spies are the best combination of taste, versatility, and keeping that I've found- a perfect 'only one tree' variety as long as you have pollinators flowering at the same time, and within a 1/4 mile of you. If not, you can graft on a couple of branches.
  • 08 Apr 2016  Reed,  MICHIGAN, United States
    I fell in love with this apple when I was 4 yrs old. My mom and I went to a pick-ur-own orchard. Up the slope in the back, I found these absolutely HUGE apples that I could only hold with both hands. One bite and I was hooked. Nowadays they are almost impossible to find. Even here in apple country. (Romeo, MI is well known for its orchards). Dan from Ontario is spot on with his description about apple pie. It's not too mushy, nor is it too stiff. The texture is just right. Before they became so hard to find, there was a time when they were also used as part of the variety blend to make cider.
  • 14 Nov 2015  Wr Smith,  NY, United States
    Please note that Mr. Smith offered these notes in 1846. Macedon is in the Rochester area where this variety was popularized. The original settlers of the "Genesee Country" frequently supplied themselves with fruit, by planting unimproved trees, raised from seeds brought with them. It is reasonable to suppose that these were generally selected from favorite and superior kinds. For many years, cider was considered one of the most profitable farm products; and this occasioned the planting of natural or cider fruit to an indefinite extent. From the many varieties thus produced, some of inferior quality have been propagated. Others, possessing merit, have, I think, been over-praised; while others, again, will be considered as acquisitions to the choicest collection. The design of this, and by permission, of subsequent communications, is to throw such light upon this interesting subject, as I may be able, and to assist in forming a correct estimate of the value of kinds under notice. The Northern Spy. — The description of this fruit, when in perfection, is too well known to need a repetition. It has many excellent qualities, such as good size, fine appearance, and high flavor, with a grateful freshness during the spring months, when well kept. This commendation applies, however, only to specimens grown under favorable circumstances; that is, upon young trees. It seems not to have been noticed publicly, except by the editor of the Western Reserve Magazine, that as the tree advances in age, the fruit almost correspondingly deteriorates. I have this, upon the authority of several intelligent cultivators, and my own observations accord therewith. Last autumn I visited several orchards where this variety was raised, and among these, that of Timothy Buell, Jr., East-Bloomfield. Here were trees, which had been grafted about twenty years, were well pruned, healthy, and in good soil, though under grass. The apples were about one-fourth the size usually described. Under the same circumstances, were young trees, showing many superb specimens; but even here were intermixed too large a proportion of small ones. I think I have examined the subject sufficiently to say, that this fault is characteristic of the variety. Now, it is possible, that like the Yellow Bellflower, it may not succeed as well in the stiff loams of East-Bloomfield, as upon a lighter soil; or that like the Newtown Pippin, generous cultivation may in some measure remedy its deficiencies; but, unless this can be done, however valuable for the garden, or small orchard, it is worthless as a market fruit, when compared with the Baldwin, Newtown Pippin, or Roxbury Russet. Macedon Nursery 1846. Reprinted in The Horticulturist, Vol 1, page 30-31
  • 23 Oct 2015  Carter Wilkie,  MASSACHUSETTS, United States
    Northern Spy makes the best pie. Newly planted trees are notoriously slow to bear fruit, which is why you seldom see it planted commercially anymore.
  • 19 Sep 2015  Janet Steinard,  MICHIGAN OAKLAND, United States
    Have a 57 year old Northern Dwarf Spy Tree. It has produced every year. Some a lot more than others. We have had to suport the lower limbs. Our Tree Man injects it to keep it very healthy.
  • 03 Nov 2014  Timothy Jackson,  United States
    I have this fall, tried three different orchards in our mid Michigan area in my quest for tart, crisp, and long keeper SPY apples. All three orchards proclaimed they had spys, but all were much softer and not nearly as tart as in the old days. Has there been a change in what people call spys? Is there a difference in apples from old trees and younger ones, perhaps grafted ones? I know spy apples, and these are not them.....despite what the orchardist says
  • 19 Oct 2014  Kaye Swiftney,  MI, United States
    Here in Western Michigan we have the biggest northern spy this year. As my mother used to say if you wa t to make a good pie use a northern spy. Also love the for apple sauce.
  • 06 Oct 2014  Dan,  ONTARIO, Canada
    To get Spies these days you usually have to head to a good Farmer's market or an orchard. As mentioned, these are simply the best pie apples, producing absolutely perfect texture (soft yet toothsome) and good rich flavour (a hearty aroma, vanilla notes, perfect sweetness). Bake it with Spies and get ready for everyone to ask your secret. Great eating apples, too--excellent crunch, acid and sweet in what feels like a 50/50 balance.
  • 22 Sep 2014  j,  United States
  • 08 Sep 2014  Elizabeth Guss,  NM, United States
    Northern Spy is my favorite apple, but I've not found them in NM. We had them back east (NY and New England) where I grew up, and in Western MI, where every fruit grows (!). I absolutely LOVE making pies with Northern Spy apples - yum!
  • 03 Nov 2013  Karen Myers,  PA, United States
    Central PA -- small crop due to the late spring, but the resulting fruit is excellent. My favorite of all apples, and getting hard to find.
  • 24 Oct 2013  Mike b,  MAINE, United States
    Our Spys are simply Gi-normous this year. It has taken many years for our new trees to come into production, and it was worth the wait. What a beautiful, sweet-tart, juicy apple.
  • 04 Sep 2013  Beth Parkhurst,  MA, United States
    Spies for pies! The Northern Spy is one of two varieties I use for pies from mid-autumn on. I try to buy them in upstate New York rather than in Massachusetts, where I live, because I think Northern Spies grown in colder climates are better than those grown in milder climates.
  • 12 Feb 2013  Flyn Sher,  New Zealand
    This apple had the pequliar flavor of bubble-gum and minty leather. I would recomend it to people who like bubble-gum and or minty leather.
  • 26 Jan 2013  Ed,  WASHINGTON, United States
    Was disappointed with this apple. After everything I had read, I anticipated a much better experience than what I got. Mushy texture, slight tang but overall rather bland. Might have been an older apple.
  • 16 Oct 2011  Jo Wright,  PENNSYLVANIA, United States
    Northern Spy is not an easy-to-find apple, but if you find them, buy them! They seem to prefer colder climates, and are not generally ready to pick until mid-October. They keep well, and if you can keep the family from eating them out of hand, they make the best apple pies, bar none!
  • 30 Sep 2011  Kate,  PENNSYLVANIA, United States
    We just moved back to the Endless Mountains countryside and found a very mature apple tree in front of our house. My parents had it pruned as a gift to us, and now it is bearing lovely Northern Spy apples. We have picked a few early, and already they are delicious! Surprising to see such good bearing on an old tree.
  • 01 Apr 2011  Lois Brown,  OREGON, United States
    I was given a huge tree that was to be moved and hauled away from a bad location. I had it taken to my place in the Foothills of Mt. Rainier in the state of Washington where it is still flourishing. I am going back there this summer and try to get a cutting from it. The apples are so delicious and make an excellant pie.
  • 01 Nov 2010  Gary Brown,  NEW YORK, United States
    My grandparents grew Northern Spy apples on their farm in Coopers Plains, NY. I grew up enjoying my grandmother's "deep-dish apple pie" (a pie baked in a shallow rectangular Pyrex pan with only a top crust) made from those apples. Wonderful!
  • 15 Oct 2010  Sue,  United States
    The Northern Spy was developed around present-day Bloomfield, NY, quite accidentally, by early settlers, the Chapin brothers. Search Northern Spy for the full history of their serendipitous route to this (plus two other recognized varieties), from the same planting & re-locating of young apple trees. Around here, we call 'em Northern Spies or just Spies, not Northern's Pie. Many people still prefer & ask for this apple at market.
  • 14 Oct 2010  Stephen Hellum,  MAINE, United States
    I bought an old farm in 1998 that was overgrown. In the woods (2' spruce and popple) there were apple trees. we cut about 3 achers of the woods carefully marking the apple trees in rows. One tree that had fallen over but not dead had fruit the next year. We pruned the others back about 1/3 and got some apples from almost all of them. I had a 50+ year old 3rd generation orchard owner come to tell me what to do from there. He told me to cut all the macs. they had scab to deep to spray out. but keep the spy untill I could graft from it he said it was the best tree he had seen. clean larg apples from a tree laying on the ground. I just picked 2 bushell of 3 to 4 inch apples from a 12' tree 5 years after grafting. I have 5 more trees growing on wild root stock from that tree but it is still producing 4-5 bushel laying down.
  • 12 Oct 2010  Jane Hassett,  FLORIDA, United States
    A friend shared a pie made with the "Northern Spy Apple," and it was great. I would like to know where I can purchase some to share with my family.
  • 09 Nov 2009  Autrement Qu'Etre,  PORTAGE CO., OH, United States
    These a big lumpy funny-looking apples, but my goodness I think they are my favorite. Tart and perfect and my go-to apple for galette aux pommes. Yum!
  • 16 Sep 2009  Nancy Wilson,  ONTARIO ,, Canada
    Hi Nancy.....from Nancy!!!! I've read different things about the odd name of this apple. This probably means nobody knows for sure. I've read that it's possibly "Northern's Pie Apple". That explanation makes most sense to me, since it was (& is) mostly used for pies......it used to be a dessert apple,too,But not until it "mellows" after long storage. I'm thinking that's why the "Northern's Pie" explanation is the right one.....it was definitely the #1 pie apple in Ontario(it's great for cooking, right from harvest till Spring) But only used for dessert, for a few months .... It really is more of a pie apple. Around here (Ontario) people who're familiar with it(mostly older people) usually just call it "Spy".
  • 27 Aug 2009  Rose,  AURORA, ARAPAHOE COLORADO, United States
    Where can we purchase these apples? I have tried our local grocers, and some high end ones, and still no northern spys.
  • 29 Jun 2009  Nancy Mckee,  ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, United States
    In a recent conversation with friends about apples, the question arose as to why "Northern Spy" was so-named? Any answers?
  • 20 May 2009  Bee Biggs-Jarrell,  CANYON/IDAHO, United States
    We found an ancient apple tree in a mountain gully, bearing golden/green with slight blush or brown streak from the stem over the shoulder of apple. It seems much like the Northern Spy trees I found in upstate New York. This tree ripens in early October, and is located next to an ancient mining road. Maybe a Johnny Appleseed Northern Spy? We picked a few that made great pie and sauce. Apples kept until March in dry, cool place. Buried the cores and pealings and VOILA 2 years later were the baby trees! About the 5th year growing at same elevation of mother tree, we had the first fruits!. Using Dr.Robert M. Crassweller's system, we sprouted seeds and planted indoors and have 13 healthy plants now, each about 8 inches tall. Question: Do we prune the top off this plant and move to gallon containers outside now that frost is past? HELP??? Any advice for culture of these young plants will be greatly appreciated!
  • 08 Oct 2008  Albasemi-Plena@Comcast.Net,  ESSEX COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS, United States
    I have only had this apple once, some 20 years ago. I don't clearly recall the flavor, although I recall that I enjoyed the apple. I do recall that the flesh of this apple is naturally pale yellow in color, not white.
  • 24 Sep 2008  Corlyss Mccullough,  OREGON, United States
    We have an apple my great grandfather planted in the late 1800's or very early 1900's. It is not very large, has very deep, bright red color with tiny white spots on, white meat very juicy and flavourful. May have come from Johnnie Appleseed in a covered wagon. I would like to know variety.

Tree register

United States

Canada

Australia

  • Hayden in Winslow, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA

Spring blossom records for this variety

2018 season

  • 20th May  2018  - tree owned by Jim in Hallstead, United States

2015 season

  • 15th May  2015  - tree owned by Jeffrey in Saginaw, United States
  • April  2015  - tree owned by J. in Elmira, United States

2012 season

  • 9th May  2012  - tree owned by James in Estacada, United States

2011 season

  • 24th May  2011  - tree owned by Kris in Holden, United States
  • May  2011  - tree owned by v in Lucknow, Canada

2010 season

  • May  2010  - tree owned by Kris in Holden, United States

Record your blossom dates in our Fruit Tree Register - more >>.


Harvest records for this variety

2015 season

  • 2nd week October  2015  - tree owned by Kathy in Picton, Canada

2013 season

  • 4th week September  2013  - tree owned by Gary in Chesaning, United States

2012 season

  • 1st week December  2012  - tree owned by James in Estacada, United States

2011 season

  • 3rd week October  2011  - tree owned by v in Lucknow, Canada

2010 season

  • 3rd week October  2010  - tree owned by Kris in Holden, United States

Origins

  • Species: Malus domestica
  • Parentage: Unknown, possibly some connection to Spitzenburg
  • Originates from: Rochester, New York, USA, United States
  • Introduced: Early 1840s
  • Developed by: Oliver Chapin (farmer)
  • Orange Pippin Cultivar ID: 1199
  • UK National Fruit Collection accession: 1951-102
  • We are grateful to Brogdale Farm - home of the UK National Fruit Collection - for providing samples of this variety.

Identification

  • Fruit colour: Red / Green
  • Flesh colour: White to Cream, pale yellow
  • Flesh colour: White to Greenish to Greenish Yellow
  • Fruit size: Medium
  • Fruit size: Large
  • Fruit size: Variable
  • Fruit size: Very large
  • Fruit shape: Round
  • Fruit shape: Round-conical
  • Fruit shape: Conical
  • Fruit shape: Oblong-conical
  • Fruit shape: Oblong
  • Bultitude apple group: 6. Red flushed, smooth, sweet

Using

  • Uses: Eat fresh
  • Uses: Cooking
  • Uses: Juice
  • Uses: Drying
  • Flavour quality: Very good
  • Flavour style: Honeyed / Scented
  • Flavour style: Sweeter
  • Flavour style: Sharper
  • Flavour style: Sweet/Sharp
  • Flavour style: Aromatic
  • Harvest period: Very-Late season
  • Use / keeping: 3 months or more
  • Vitamin C content: High

Growing

  • Cropping: Heavy
  • Flowering period: Very-Late season
  • Flowering group: 5
  • Fertility: Self-sterile
  • Ploidy: Diploid
  • Vigour: Large
  • Bearing regularity: Biennial tendency
  • Gardening skill: Average
  • Precocity: Slow to start bearing
  • Fruit bearing: Spur-bearer
  • Fruit bearing: Tip-bearer
  • Fruit bearing: Partial tip-bearer
  • General disease resistance: Poor
  • Period of origin: 1800 - 1849

Climate

  • Climate suitability: Temperate climates
  • Climate suitability: Tolerates cold winters

Parents and other ancestors of this variety


Offspring of this variety


Diseases

  • Fireblight  - Very susceptible
  • Cedar apple rust  - Some susceptibility

Pests

  • Woolly aphid  - Very resistant


Where to buy trees

The following fruit tree nurseries offer Northern Spy apple trees for sale:


Where to buy fresh fruit

United Statesmap >


Canadamap >




References

  • Cedar-Apple Rust  
    Author: Stephen Vann, University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture (FSA7538)
    Rated as susceptible - control usually needed where CAR is prevalent.
  • Apples for the 21st Century
    Author: Manhart


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