crab apple tree

Crab Apple – Malus Sylvestris

Tree of the Week

16th June 2020 | Info

Common name: Crab Apple 

Scientific name: Malus Sylvestris 

Introduction: The Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) is a UK native deciduous tree that is the ancestor to the cultivated Apple. 


Leaves: The leaves of a Crab Apple form on short stalks and are shiny and smooth. They are green in colour and ovately shaped with rounded teethed edges. 

Buds: Buds of a Crab Apple are typically brown, scaled and pointed with downy hairs on their tips.  

Bark: Crab Apple bark is a flecked, greyish-brown colour and their twigs, which often develop spines, are typically covered in lichens. 

Form: Crab Apples are a small to mediumsized tree that has an irregularly rounded shape and a widespreading canopy. As a tree matures, they generally become more gnarled and twisted.  

Flowers and Fruit: In spring, beautiful pink-tinted white blossom forms on the tree and proceeds to be pollinated by bees and other insects. Once pollinated, these then develop into small, yellowy-green fruits (apples) that once ripened turn red. 

crab apple blossom

[Crab Apple Blossom]

Growth Habit

Crab apples have a medium growth rate, typically taking between 20-50 years to reach their ultimate height which is averagely around 10m. However, they do have a lifespan of roughly 100 years.  

Ecological Importance

The Crab Apple helps to provide a valuable food source to a range of animals and insects. For example, their leaves are often eaten by caterpillars of many moth species and their blossom providean early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects! Their fruit, especially when fallen, can also be eaten by a range of birds and mammals such as blackbirds, mice and voles. This, in turn, aids in natural dispersion of Crab Apple seeds. 

Properties of Crab Apple Wood and its Uses

Crab Apple wood provides a good quality timber which has an even texture and a pink finish. It is popularly used in carving and turning and when burnt omits a pleasant odour.  

Styling of Crab Apples/Where to Find Them

Crab Apples can be found throughout the UK and Europe, thriving best in denser, more moist soil and areas of scrubland.  

Associated Pests and Diseases

Unfortunately, the Crab Apple can be susceptible to many pests and fungal diseases, including the Apple ScabHoney Fungus and Apple Canker which ultimately reduce the health of the tree. They are also occasionally prone to the Fireblight disease which gives the tree a scorched-like appearance.  

AphidsWoolly Aphids and Fruit Tree Red Spider Mites are also attracted to the Crab Apple.  

Interesting Facts

Crab Apple trees are one of the only natural host trees of Mistletoe 


Pruning and Pruning Qualities: Crab Apples are relatively easy to maintain, and it is suggested that they do not require vigorous pruning and that pruning should be kept minimal and simple. 

The main intention of pruning a Crab Apple should be to maintain the shape of the tree, as well as to remove any dead, diseased, or congested branches. This helps to not only keep the tree healthy but also reduces the risk of any pests or diseases spreading.  

Ideally, any pruning of a Crab Apple should be carried out when the tree is in its dormant stage, but after the stage where there may be a risk of severe cold weather. Typically, this will be in late winter to early spring. 

*Please note – knowing what your tree may need or require can be daunting and challenging to figure out, which is why we always suggest consulting your local tree surgeon. They will be able to provide you with the answers to any questions that you may have and ensure that any work that is required will be carried out safely. To find your local, qualified tree surgeon, click here 

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