Fruit from the Garden of Eden
MALUS is the Latin name for all apple trees. The native wild crab apple is Malus sylvestris while the apples we grow to eat are classified under Malus domestica. Both varieties have many many cultivars but it is the crab apples I am going to discuss here.
The cultivated crab apple trees we grow in our gardens are often over looked when it comes to selecting small flowering trees for our gardens. This is often in favour of the wonderful cherry blossoms which are undoubtedly never a bad choice either. Both apples and cherries belong to the same plant family in fact, Rosaceae, along with other plants like roses, hawthorns and mountain ash trees.
But the flowering crab apple is no poor man’s cherry blossom. If fact they are equal to them in their flowering profusion with colours from white through pink to red. Most flowering crab apple as you might expect will also produce large crops of brightly coloured crab apples of varying sizes that can last on the trees well into winter. The fruits range in colour from yellow to red and crimson sometimes flushed with all three.
Crab apples are extremely sour but a jelly preserve can be made with most of varieties. I have never done so my self but I would imagine it involves a lot of boiling and a lot of sugar. Some varieties have purple leaves, theses are best grown in full sun to keep their best leaf colour. Other varieties take on autumn tints. A
Athough not seen often, crab apples make excellent wall trained specimens, laid out with horizontal branches they can be quite structurally dramatic even through winter. They can be used as pollinators for fruit varieties as well. Flowering crab apples are not only a plant for all season but also for all reasons.
Crab apples tend to be small trees, similar to cherries again in fact. They generally flower later than most cherries, starting in May, so they are a great continuation tree when the cherries have finished their flowering. They don’t ask for much. Reasonable soil, some sun, some shelter. Given these basic requirements they will perform well for many years for you.
Their one downside, there always has to be one, is that they are susceptible to apple scab, as cherries are to canker and roses are to blackspot. Scab is a fungal disease that effects all apples. It is of more concern on edible fruit because it can render them inedible. It manifests itself as brown or black leisions on the fruit and leaves. It seldom kills the tree and can be treated with a fungicide. Clearing up old dropped leaves in autumn as with all leaves is highly advisable. Many varieties bred now are highly resistant to scab and it should certainly not put you off planting one of these spectacular small trees that rarely reach higher than twenty feet. Malus ‘Evereste’ is one such cultivar with excellent scab resistance. Making a conical tree with many flowers, red budded opening white and large at 5cms. These are followed by yellow/ orange long-lasting fruit 2.5 cms across. Malus ‘Red Sentinal’ is a narrow upright tree with masses of white flowers followed by bright red long lasting crab apples. Good scab resistance also. Malus hupehensis is an unusal species as it makes 40 feet and is one of the largest crab apples. Pink budded opening white flowers and red / yellow fruits. Disease resistant and something for the plant collector to look out for. Malus ‘Profusion’ is a purple leafed variety. As the name suggests it flowers in great profusion with wine red flowers. The apples are blood red and small. This variety is not quite so scab resistant. Malus ‘Golden Hornet’ has white flowers and masses of long lasting yellow fruit. Malus floribunda is a hugely popular plant and is known as the Japanese crab. Crimson in bud opening white to blush pink with small fruits of red and yellow. This is the earliest of the crabs to flower. And finally if a word can paint a thousand pictures, Malus ‘Gorgeous’, pictured left, which is everything you might expect. Pink buds opening to white flowers and very persistent crimson orange fruits.