This past week seemed to be crabapple season in Minnesota. All of a sudden — as happens most year — the crabapple trees, aka, flowering crabs, burst into bloom. Pinks, deep maroons, whites — the colors exploded on city boulevards, a clear signal that winter has truly retreated and summer cannot be far off.
Crabapple trees are a great specimen plant in the landscape. They come in sizes ranging from dainty 8-foot-tall dwarf varieties to full size crabs that will grow more than 25 feet tall and wide. An old crab in full bloom is truly impressive. Because of the tendency of the fruit to be “messy” in the landscape, a growing number of crabapple varieties are sterile, producing flowers but no fruit. If you have a spot where the fruit is not a problem, however, crabapples with very small fruit are popular with birds. Crabs with larger fruit make a delicious, old-fashioned jelly.
Crab apples are categorized in the Malus genus, the same group as apple trees. Both types of trees originated in Kazakhstan. The main difference seems to be the size of the fruit (it must be more than 2 inches across to be an apple) and the sweetness, because crabs are puckery indeed. The wide variety of types of crabapples in North America came about as a result of mad hybridizing in the 18th and 19th centuries to create fruit that produced tasty hard cider.
The evenings this week promise to be pleasant. It would be a great time to take a walk and admire the fleeting beauty of Minnesota crabapples.