Malus or Crab Apple trees offer wonderful prolific spring blossom as well as decorative autumn fruits in a wide range of colours, sizes and shapes. Referred to as "Jewels of the Landscape", Crab Apples come in many shades of golden orange, yellow, pink, red and purple. They are sour when eaten raw, but larger varieties are excellent for using in jellies or preserves and even added to cider.
Crab Apple trees are named after the compact size of their fruits, which vary from 1cm to 5cm in diameter. Any larger and they would be considered a normal apple. Crab apple varieties with large fruits are both highly decorative and productive, producing crab apples suitable for culinary use - some examples include Malus 'John Downie', Malus 'Rosehip' and Malus Marble. The buds are often brightly coloured even on white flowering varieties. The flowers can be single or double and in shades of white, pink or purple. For double flowers, look at Malus 'Snowcloud' and for large pink flowers look at Malus 'Rudolph'.
There are around 40 species and hundreds of hybrids of Malus, so there is plenty of choice beyond the features of the fruit and flowers. Malus trees come in upright or weeping forms and while many are green leaved, there are some varieties with bronzed or purplish foliage. Malus 'Sun Rival' and Malus 'Royal Beauty' are amongst the best weeping varieties.
Originally from temperate regions in the northern hemisphere where they grow at woodland edges or in fairly open but still sheltered areas, Crab Apple trees are modest in height. Their small size, in addition to strong spring and autumn features, make them popular in small gardens. They grow well in virtually all soils (other than waterlogged or very dry) in sun or partial shade.
Beyond being decorative, there are many other uses of Crab Apple trees. They are particularly beneficial to wildlife, with the flowers attracting many types of bee who come looking for the nectar and the fruits are eaten by birds. As mentioned above, the larger fruits are also suitable for culinary use such as making crab apple jelly or chutney. Crab Apple trees produce huge quantities of pollen so are used as pollinisers in orchards. They are sometimes also used for practicing the art of bonsai.
Folk lore states that if you throw crabapple pips into a fire whilst saying the name of the person you love you can discover if it really is true love as the pips will explode. If they don't explode, it means that sadly, that person is not meant for you. In Celtic culture, crabapple wood was burned during fertility festivals as a good luck charm.
Crab Apple Trees have been regularly mentioned in literature, with Shakespeare incorporating them into both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Love's Labour Lost.