Meet the Trees: Crabapple
The crabapple is a small tree in the rose family of the Malus, or apple, genus. It originated from the mountains of Kazakhstan, and other cooler parts of Central Asia, before being introduced to the West by Romans. In Europe and Western Asia, the crabapple became highly desirable for its decorative and adaptable qualities, which led to its rapid diversification. Colonists later brought the crabapple to temperate regions of North America, where there are now several naturalized species and countless hybridized varieties.
Nowadays there are so many cross-pollinated crabapple varieties that it is near impossible to track their distinct origins. Some of these varieties are vulnerable to diseases like cedar apple rust, fire blight, and apple scab fungus—although many modern cultivars have developed resistance to these diseases. The crabapple’s resilience and high-tolerance for urban, or otherwise inhospitable environments, is one of the main reasons it is so popular.
The crabapple’s popularity is also due in part to its compact size and ability to provide year-round seasonal interest, while requiring minimal care. It is a deciduous, or annually shedding, tree that blooms early in spring, producing a showy array of pink, red, and/or white blossoms known for their sweet aroma, similar to honeysuckle. In early fall, it presents attractive foliage and ornamental fruits which often persist through wintertime. The crabapple’s small fruit makes it appealing to various mammals and birds, while its fragrant flowers make it a favorite for early-emerging bees (to learn more about flowering trees and their relationship to bees, check out our Trees For Bees post). In fact, it is so good at attracting bees that orchardists frequently use the crabapple as pollinizers for other apple trees, and have been known to place its flowering branches in a water bucket at the center of their orchards in an effort to draw in more pollinators.
In addition to using them as pollinizers, people have historically used crabapples for cooking, cider, and various condiments, as the fruit, while edible, is too bitter to consume raw. Its flowering and fruiting qualities make it a highly popular choice for bonsai, though it should be noted that the crabapple cannot be expected to flower equally year to year. Most varieties alternate between periods of high and moderate yields of fruit and blossoms.
We love the crabapple for the immense value it adds to our Park! There are currently sixteen crabapples in our arboretum, and below we have indicated their annual benefit using the Davey’s National Tree Benefit Calculator. The Davey’s National Tree Benefit Calculator creates estimates based off a tree’s ability to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, raise property values, and reduce energy costs. Look for the crabapple tree on our self-guided arboretum tour!