Tree of the week: Malus sylvestris – Crab apple

Native to North America and Asia, the Crab apple tree is widely grown for its attractive growth habit, spring flower display, and decorative fruits. Malus sylvestris means “forest apple”. This deciduous tree is typically found growing in the wild in woods containing oak and is a food source for many undomesticated animals.

The tree is characterised with an irregular, rounded shape and a wide, spreading canopy. The bark is  greyish brown, flecked, the tree can become quite gnarled and twisted, especially when exposed, and the twigs often develop spines. Leaves of Malus sylvestris are glossy and oval, they grow to a length of 6cm and have rounded teeth. In spring, this tree produces white pink sweetly scented flowers which are pollinated by bees and other insects. The blossom develops into small, yellow-green apple-like fruits around 2–3cm across. Sometimes the fruit is flushed with red spots. Malus sylvestris is invaluable as a pollinating partner for other apples, so plant one within your mini orchard and you’re sure to boost the fruiting prospects of your other trees.

The fruit can be used in jellies and as a natural source of pectin for setting jams. This tree grows well in full sun and where other nearby trees will not shade them excessively. It flowers and fruit best in full sun, although it can tolerate light shade. The fruit can be used as a laxative. The crushed fruit pulp can be used as a dressing to heal inflammations or small flesh wounds. The fruit is eaten to obviate constipation.