Wednesday, October 17, 2012

That's one crabby apple!

Species name: Malus baccata

Common name: Siberian crabapple

Location: Ontario

The fact that this tree is the Siberian crabapple should lead you to believe it's a non-native species, and you would be correct. Amazingly enough, we do have native species of this tree in Canada and the northern United States (and one separate species in the southeastern US around Florida and Georgia) despite them hardly ever being planted as ornamental trees. I would think they would be more tolerant to the kind of weather we get in Canada, but the Siberian species is often favoured because of the scent of the flowers. The fruit are attractive in the late summer and early fall, but don't seem to be favoured by any species of bird or small mammal. There are some that will eat them, but birds seem to prefer the trees for shelter as opposed to a food source.

The pollination requirements of any species in the genus Malus is quite interesting. They all seem to be self-sterile, and require cross-pollination between cultivars in order to produce fruit. While this might seem like a detrimental process (what's the likelihood of two different cultivars being in close proximity?), it actually would give the trees a huge benefit in nature because it would eliminate the possibility of inbreeding and hence reduce the effect of detrimental recessive genes (that might cause disease, susceptibility to disease, malformation, etc.).

The fruit of this tree are edible to humans, but few people actually consume them. They are great for making jams and jellies, but not necessarily the most healthy because they are quite tart and require a lot of sugar to make them palatable. Greaves at Niagara-on-the-Lake makes a great crabapple jelly, if you're ever interested in trying some. The fruit do look a bit like cherries from a distance when they are fully ripe, but have a completely different texture. These trees are also very popular to be used as bonsai trees.