Crabapples: The Flowering Tree Everyone Loves to Hate (Not!)

Crabtree Orchard in Ottawa Wild Here

Is this true?  What do you think?  Perhaps it's only those who have to walk on fallen crabapples or those who have to clean up their yards in the fall?  It does seem however, that Crabapple trees can get a bad rap!  They are incredibly beautiful in the spring when they bloom but after that, what gives?  This whole "bad rap for Crabapples" was brought to my attention, when I was at a meeting this winter.  We were discussing the benefits of certain plants and trees in the city and this one person wanted to get rid of all Crabapple trees because they didn't benefit humans.  Sure insects find the trees valuable due to all the pollen and nectar and wildlife eat some of the fruit BUT in this person's eyes, since we couldn't really eat crabapples ourselves and they just "made a mess of sidewalks" why should we be planting them?  What is the purpose of Crabapples in a city?

I looked up some information about Crabapple Trees and found these lovely nuggets:

  • The Crabapple (a member of the Rose (Rosaceae) plant family) is the ONLY apple native to North America.  The apple tree that provides such a harvest for us was brought over by settlers from Europe and it is originally from Asia.
  • Crabapples are tolerant of drought conditions (which is great for these unpredictable weather that we are experiencing more and more of these days) and are adaptable to many conditions offering shade, shelter, nutrients and oxygen to so many species including us.
  • These small apples offer nutrients to migrating birds that return in the spring (by lasting through the winter) and of course attract many pollinators also (over 90 insect species according to RSPB) including native bee species.

Detail of Crabapple Blossom - Pink Bloom Ottawa

Here's a list from Wild Birds Unlimited of birds that benefit from crabapple trees (from their fruit, flowers and sap):
American Robin, Blue Jay, Northern Bobwhite, Northern Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, American Crow, Common Grackle, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern bluebird, Eastern Towhee, European Starling, Grosbeaks, Gray catbird, Hairy woodpecker, House Finch, Northern Mockingbird, Orioles, Purple Finch, Red-bellied woodpecker, Red-headed woodpecker, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Tufted Titmouse.
I would say as city dwellers, we get a lot of pleasure out of seeing and hearing birds in the city.  The ecological value to pollinators who in turn pollinate food crops that we can eat should be accounted for also.  And even many mammals enjoy crabapples including squirrels, chipmunks, porcupines, raccoons, skunks and others.  I've even seen rabbits munching on fallen serviceberries so possibly they could enjoy crabapples as well?  And personally I enjoy a city animated by wildlife so there's an indirect benefit for us if wildlife can find food in the city.  (I know also that there are many urban dwellers who may find it difficult to live with wildlife especially if they are making damage to their property - so there are always pros and cons.)  In the end I am on the "yea" side - or should I say "yay!" side?  How about you?

What's your favourite flowering tree?  

Is it the Crabapple or is it another lovely spring blossom?  

What is your vote - yea or nay for Crabapples?

Where is the best place in your city to find your favourite spring blooms?

Orchard by Lincoln Fields Ottawa Ontario Wild Here

Here in Ottawa, the blooming Crabapples can be enjoyed by the middle of the month of May as a lovely backdrop to the tulips in many areas of the city.  There are some in the orchard at Lincoln Fields - see if you can tell the difference* between Cherry and Crabapples in bloom!  Also check out two small collections of Crabapples in the Dominion Arboretum - one just north of Building 72 (near Prince of Wales Drive) and the other along the Rideau Canal between the small island and the canal pathway (Link to Friends of the Farm Map).

And just in case my friend from the meeting last winter is reading - here are eight recipes for delicious treats and tasty desserts using native crabapples (not the ornamental ones - mind you!) so that they too can enjoy the bloom and harvest of these valuable city trees!
Crabapple and Port Jelly (SBS - Australian website)
Sweet Pickled Crabapples (Nip It In the Bud blog)
Crabapple Crisp (Conscious Movements)
Canned Crabapples two ways: Spiced + Honey Cinnamon (Common Sense Homesteading)
Crabapple Schnapps (Urban Huntress)
Crabapple Chutney (Weaver's Orchard)
Poached Crabapples in Chardonnay (via The Kitchn)
Dark Chocolate Crabapple Cake (Kim Sunée)

*Here's the start of some help in identifying features that are distinct between the two fruit trees from the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival organization!  (They should know, right?!)

You May Also Like:

The Scent of Fruit Trees (May 2015)

Horsechestnut: The Overlooked Spring Bloom (May 2018)

ABC's of Tree Identification in Winter (January 2018)

The World Within One Tree - Weekly Dose of Wild (September 2015)

1 comment:

  1. Here are some other great resources on how to identify the three flowering blossoms (Cherry, Crab and Plum):

    Flowering crabs (Malus):

    have serrated leaf margins on simple, ovate to elliptical-oblong leaves arranged alternately. Never glossy. Bark in vertical cracks.

    Flowering cherry (Prunus):

    are doubly serrated on leaf margins on a glossy lance to elliptical shaped leaf. Bark is glossy on some with horizontal lenticel markings that give a split in the bark.

    Hope this helps!