1231 Malus spCommon Names: ornamental crabapple, flowering crabapple Family: Rosaceae (rose Family)
The flowering crabapples consist of more than 600 named cultivars and hybrids, bred and selected over the centuries for their showy and often fragrant early spring blossoms and their ornamental fruits. Most have flowers that are 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) across, borne singly or in small clusters. Flowers are often white, but some are shades of pink or red. The flowers are usually cup or saucer shaped with five petals, and some are double. The deciduous leaves are arranged alternately along the stems, usually toothed on the margins, oval or elliptical in shape, and 2-3 in (5-8 cm) long. Most crabapples have shiny, dark green leaves, but the leaves of some cultivars are reddish or purplish. Fruits (technically, pomes) are generally sour, even bitter, but many are quite showy in shades of red, purple, yellow and green. Flowering crabapples are generally small trees or large shrubs, most in the range of 12-25 ft (3-7 m) high with similar spreads.
Flowering crabapple (Malus sp.) cultivars come in all shapes and sizes, including columnar, rounded, spreading, vase shaped, and weeping. We cannot begin to list all the available cultivars, but (without malice aforethought) we choose a few favorites to mention:
One of the most popular cultivars is ‘Red Jade’, a weeping form that can have a spread up to 20 ft (6 m) across while only 12 ft (4 m) high. It has pinkish flowers followed by shiny bright red fruits a half inch (13 mm) in diameter. Another popular pendulous pretty crabapple is ‘White Cascade’. It has white flowers and yellowish fruits, and gets about 15 ft (4.5 m) tall with a similar spread. Introduced by Callaway Gardens in Georgia, ‘Callaway’ is one of the best flowering crabapples for the South, thriving to zone 8a, possible even zone 9. ‘Columnaris’ is a skinny upright tree with snow white flowers; ‘Dolgo’ is a very cold-hardy rounded shrub; ‘Red Barron’ has dark red flowers; ‘Pink Perfection’ has double white and pink flowers; ‘Profusion’ has burgundy colored flowers and red cherry-like fruits; and little ‘Strathmore’ is narrow and erect, growing to only 9 ft (3 m) tall.
In his excellent Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, the renowned plantsman, Michael Dirr, lists his favorite flowering crabapple cultivars: ‘Adirondack’, which is highly disease resistant; ‘Callaway’, mentioned above; ‘Donald Wyman’, a larger tree with a profusion of large white flowers; ‘Harvest Gold’, another big crabapple with golden fruits that persist until spring; ‘Red Jewel’, a rounded shrub with small bright red fruits; ‘Snowdrift’, a vigorous shrub with white flowers and small orange fruits; and ‘Sugar Tyme’, a vigorous upright tree with very fragrant white flowers, and among the most floriferous of all.
The flowering crabapples are mostly selections from, or hybrids with, Malus baccata (Siberian crabapple), which comes originally from China and Japan. There are some 30 other Malus species that are native to temperate Asia, Europe and North America, and some of these have figured in the development of the many flowering crabapple cultivars.
Light: The crabapples do best in full sun, although most can tolerate partial shade. The ones with purple leaves color up best in full sun. Moisture: Crabapples like a well drained soil that is not too dry and never water logged. They do best in soils with a slightly acidic pH of 5.0 to 6.5. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 6. Most of the flowering crabapple cultivars are hardy in zones 4-8, but several tolerate it a little colder, to zone 3b or even 3a (‘Profusion’, ‘Doubloons’, ‘Dolgo’ and ‘Selkirk’ for example). None like it hot. Propagation: The flowering crabapples must be propagated vegetatively; seeds cannot be expected to come true. Various types of budding and grafting onto seedling or clone rootstock are used in commercial propagation. Crabapples also can be propagated from softwood cuttings.
In full bloom, a flowering crabapple has few peers. These are among the most beautiful of all landscape trees. They make outstanding specimen trees for smaller yards and parks. The delicate blossoms and lovely fragrance accentuate the beauty of spring. Many cultivars have foliage that retains its purplish, reddish nor yellowish color well into autumn. The colorful fruits, yellow to red to purple, often persist on the trees late into winter.
Technically, the fruits are edible, but most are not very palatable when raw. They are sometimes cooked and can be used for pies, jellies, and the like. Less discerning birds and mammals, on the other hand, find the fruits to be quite acceptable.
Malus, the apple genus, includes around 30 species of trees and shrubs from the temperate northern hemisphere. The apples are sometimes included within the genus, Pyrus, which more often is restricted to the pears, P. calleryana (ornamental pear) and P. pyrifolia (sand pear), among others.
It may surprise some to learn that apples are in the rose family. It did Robert Frost:
The Rose Family
The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple's a rose,
And the pear is, and so's
The plum I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose -
But were always a rose.
Most of the flowering crabapples treated here are descendents of, or hybrids with, Malus baccata (Siberian crabapple). The native North American crabapple species include southern crabapple (M. angustifolia), sweet crabapple (M. coronaria), and prairie crabapple (M. ioensis), some of which may have figured in the creation of some of the flowering crabapple cultivars.
Malus X domestica (also called M. pumila) is the original wild apple that has given rise to the many varieties of apples grown for human consumption.
Steve Christman 12/29/14