Crabapples bloom in white and shades of red ranging from pale pink to deep purplish rose. Often the flower buds are a darker shade than the open flowers, adding attractive contrast on blooming branches. Many Malus species bear pink buds that open to white flowers.
Crabapple flowers are beautiful, but individual trees are typically in bloom for only a week or two. Crabapple fruit, on the other hand, can persist for months, providing a much longer show of color than the flowers do. Many crabapples display showy fruit from September through at least November, and cultivars with highly persistent fruit may carry on the show through much of the winter.
Most Malus species are native to Eurasia, but there are a few that are native to North America. An example in the Arboretum’s collection is prairie crabapple (M. ioensis). This species bears large (1 to 1.5 inch diameter) fruit that provide food for wildlife when they fall but make the tree less desirable for most landscape uses.
Sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii) was named in honor of the Arboretum’s founding director, Charles S. Sargent, who first brought seeds of this species to the United States from Japan. This naturally small-growing species reaches a height of only 6 to 8 feet but has a horizontal spread of 8 to 15 feet. It has white flowers and small (1/4 to 1/3 inch diameter) red fruit that persists into winter.
Malus ‘Mary Potter’ is another crabapple with a Sargent connection. This cultivar was hybridized and selected by Arboretum researcher Karl Sax in 1947 and was named in honor of Charles Sprague Sargent’s daughter. It grows about 10 to 15 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. Pink buds open to white flowers, which are followed by ½ inch diameter red fruit.
Most ornamental crabapple cultivars are small trees, typically maturing at 15 to 25 feet tall. A notable exception on Peters Hill is a specimen of Malus x robusta ‘Arnold-Canada’ (172-52-B). At just over 40 feet tall, it towers over neighboring crabapples. In addition to its large size, this rare cultivar is noted for its showy yellow and red fruit and for developing good yellow fall foliage color.
For more than a century, the Arboretum has played a pivotal role in the study, introduction, and promotion of the genus Malus, which includes the apples and crabapples. Today, 153 taxa (kinds) comprise our collections. These include 53 species, many of which were collected from their native ranges, primarily in Asia. The collection also holds 91 cultivars, which have been selected for certain horticultural merits such as flower size and color, fruit persistence, and disease resistance.
Plants in this Collection
This quarter-mile tour through the Explorers Garden features stories from the Arboretum’s century and a half of collecting plants around the world. If you’re at the Arboretum, click here to take a version of this tour with Expeditions, our mobile web app.