Malus (/ˈmləs/[2] or /ˈmæləs/) is a genus of about 30–55 species[3] of small deciduous trees or shrubs in the family Rosaceae, including the domesticated orchard apple (M. domestica syn. M. pumila) – also known as the eating apple, cooking apple, or culinary apple. The other species are commonly known as crabapples, crab apples, crabtrees, or wild apples.

Malus ‘Purple Prince’[1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Subfamily: Amygdaloideae
Tribe: Maleae
Subtribe: Malinae
Genus: Malus
Type species
Malus sylvestris
Mill. (1768)

See text

The genus is native to the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere.


Apple trees are typically 4–12 m (13–39 ft) talI at maturity, with a dense, twiggy crown. The leaves are 3–10 cm (1.2–3.9 in) long, alternate, simple, with a serrated margin. The flowers are borne in corymbs, and have five petals, which may be white, pink or red, and are perfect, with usually red stamens that produce copious pollen, and a half-inferior ovary; flowering occurs in the spring after 50–80 growing degree days (varying greatly according to subspecies and cultivar).

Apples require cross-pollination between individuals by insects (typically bees, which freely visit the flowers for both nectar and pollen); all are self-sterile, and (with the exception of a few specially developed cultivars) self-pollination is impossible, making pollinating insects essential. Several Malus species, including domestic apples, hybridize freely.[4] They are used as food plants by the larvae of a large number of Lepidoptera species; see list of Lepidoptera that feed on Malus.

The fruit is a globose pome, varying in size from 1–4 cm (0.39–1.57 in) diameter in most of the wild species, to 6 cm (2.4 in) in M. sylvestris sieversii, 8 cm (3.1 in) in M. domestica, and even larger in certain cultivated orchard apples. The centre of the fruit contains five carpels arranged star-like, each containing one or two seeds.

Subdivisions & Species

There are about 42 to 55 species and natural hybrids with about 25 from China, of which 15 are endemic. The genus Malus is subdivided into eight sections (six with two added in 2006 and 2008)

Subgenus Image Scientific name Common name Distribution
Section Chloromeles (Decaisne) Rehd. Malus angustifolia (Aiton) Michx. southern crabapple eastern and south-central United States from Florida west to eastern Texas and north to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Missouri
Malus coronaria (L.) Mill. sweet crabapple Great Lakes Region and in the Ohio Valley,United States
Malus ioensis (Alph.Wood) Britton prairie crabapple upper Mississippi Valley,United States
Malus brevipes (Rehder) Rehder shrub apple
Section Docyniopsis Schneid. Malus doumeri (Bois) A.Chev. Taiwan crabapple China(Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi, Taiwan, Yunnan, Zhejiang), Laos, Vietnam
Malus leiocalyca S. Z. Huang China (Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Jiangxi, Yunnan, Zhejiang)
Malus tschonoskii (Maxim.) C.K.Schneid. Chonosuki crabapple and pillar apple Japan.
Section Eriolobus (Seringe) Schneid Malus trilobata (Poir.) C.K.Schneid. Lebanese wild apple, erect crabapple, or three-lobed apple tree Asia includes West and South Anatolia, Syria, Lebanon and North Israel, Europe from east section of Greek Thrace (Evros Prefecture) and southeastern Bulgaria
Section Florentinae (Rehder) M.H.Cheng ex G.Z.Qian[5] Malus florentina (Zucc.) C.K.Schneid. Florentine crabapple, hawthorn-leaf crabapple Balkan Peninsula and Italy
Section Gymnomeles Koehne Malus baccata (L.) Borkh. 1803 Siberian crabapple Russia, Mongolia, China, Korea, Bhutan, India and Nepal
Malus halliana Koehne 1890 Hall crabapple Japan and China
Malus hupehensis (Pamp.) Rehder 1933 tea crabapple China
Malus mandshurica (Maxim.) Kom. ex Skvortsov Manchurian crabapple China, Japan, eastern Russia
Malus sikkimensis Wenz.) Koehne ex C.K.Schneid. Sikkim crabapple China, Nepal, Bhutan, and India
Malus spontanea (Makino) Makino Japan
Section Malus Langenfelds Malus asiatica Nakai Chinese pearleaf crabapple China and Korea.
Malus chitralensis Vassilcz. Chitral Crab Apple India, Pakistan
Malus crescimannoi Raimondo north-eastern Sicily
Malus floribunda Siebold ex Van Houtte Japanese flowering crabapple Japan and East Asia
Malus muliensis T.C.Ku China (Sichuan)
Malus orientalis Uglitzk. Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, and Russia
Malus prunifolia (Willd.) Borkh. plum-leaf crabapple, Chinese crabapple China
Malus domestica Miller, 1768 orchard apple, includes Malus niedzwetzkyana and M. pumila Turkey.
Malus sieversii (Ledeb.) M.Roem. Central Asia in southern Kazakhstan
Malus spectabilis (Aiton) Borkh. Asiatic apple, Chinese crabapple China (Hebei, Jiangsu, Liaoning, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Zhejiang)
Malus sylvestris (L.) Mill. European crabapple Europe
Malus zhaojiaoensis N.G.Jiang Zhaojiao crab apple China (Sichuan)
Section Sorbomalus Zabel Malus fusca (Raf.) C.K.Schneid. Oregon or Pacific crabapple western North America from Alaska, through British Columbia, to northwestern California.
Malus kansuensis (Batalin) C. K. Schneider Calva crabapple China (Gansu, Henan, Hubei, Shaanxi, Sichuan)
Malus komarovii (Sarg.) Rehder China, Manchuria, and North Korea.
Malus sargentii Rehder. Sargent crabapple Japan
Malus toringo (Siebold) de Vriese Toringo crabapple or Siebold's crabapple eastern temperate Asia, in China, Japan, and Korea
Malus toringoides Hughes cut-leaf crabapple China(Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai and Sichuan)
Malus transitoria C.K.Schneid. cut-leaf crabapple China (Gansu, Nei Mongol, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Sichuan, E Xizang)
Malus zumi (Matsum.) Rehder Japan (Honshu)
Section Yunnanenses (Rehd.) G.Z.Qian[6] Malus honanensis Rehder. Honan Crabapple China (Gansu, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Shaanxi, Shanxi.)
Malus ombrophila Handel-Mazzetti China (Sichuan, Xizang,Yunnan)
Malus prattii (Hemsl.) C.K.Schneid. Pratt's crabapple China (Guangdong, Guizhou, west Sichuan, and northwest Yunnan)
Malus yunnanensis C.K.Schneid. Yunnan crabapple China (Yunnan)

Natural Hybrids


For the Malus pumila cultivars, the culinary, and eating apples, see Apple.

Crabapples are popular as compact ornamental trees, providing blossom in Spring and colourful fruit in Autumn. The fruits often persist throughout Winter. Numerous hybrid cultivars have been selected. The following have won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit:-[7]

  • ’Adirondack’[8]
  • ’Butterball’[9]
  • ’Evereste’[10]
  • Jelly King = ‘Mattfru’[11]
  • ’Laura’[12]
  • ’Red Sentinel’[13]
  • ’Sun Rival’[14]

Other varieties are dealt with under their species names.

Some crabapples are used as rootstocks for domestic apples to add beneficial characteristics.[15] For example, varieties of baccata, also called Siberian crab, rootstock is used to give additional cold hardiness to the combined plant for orchards in cold northern areas.[16]

They are also used as pollinizers in apple orchards. Varieties of crabapple are selected to bloom contemporaneously with the apple variety in an orchard planting, and the crabs are planted every sixth or seventh tree, or limbs of a crab tree are grafted onto some of the apple trees. In emergencies, a bucket or drum bouquet of crabapple flowering branches are placed near the beehives as orchard pollenizers. See also Fruit tree pollination.

Because of the plentiful blossoms and small fruit, crabapples are popular for use in bonsai culture.[17][18][19]


Crabapple fruit is not an important crop in most areas, being extremely sour due to malic acid (which like the genus derives from the Latin name mālum), and in some species woody, and for this reason is rarely eaten raw. In some southeast Asian cultures they are valued as a sour condiment, sometimes eaten with salt and chili pepper, or shrimp paste.

Some crabapple varieties are an exception to the reputation of being sour, and can be very sweet, such as the 'Chestnut' cultivar.[20]

Crabapples are an excellent source of pectin, and their juice can be made into a ruby-coloured preserve with a full, spicy flavour.[21] A small percentage of crabapples in cider makes a more interesting flavour.[22] As Old English Wergulu, the crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century.

Apple wood gives off a pleasant scent when burned, and smoke from an apple wood fire gives an excellent flavour to smoked foods.[23] It is easier to cut when green; dry apple wood is exceedingly difficult to carve by hand.[23] It is a good wood for cooking fires because it burns hot and slow, without producing much flame.[23]

Crab apple has been listed as one of the 38 plants whose flowers are used to prepare the Bach flower remedies.[24]


  • Malus x adstringens 'Durleo' - Gladiator Crabapple[25]
  • Malus × moerlandsii Door. 'profusion' - Profusion crabapple


  1. Cirrus Digital Purple Prince Crabapple
  2. Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  3. Phipps, J.B.; et al. (1990). "A checklist of the subfamily Maloideae (Rosaceae)". Can. J. Bot. 68 (10): 2209–2269. doi:10.1139/b90-288.
  4. Ken Wilson and D.C. Elfving. "Crabapple Pollenizers for Apples". Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Retrieved 12 Sep 2013.
  5. GUAN-ZE QIAN, LIAN-FEN LIU, DE-YUAN HONG, GENG-GUO TANG (2008). "Taxonomic study of Malus section Florentinae (Rosaceae)". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 158 (2): 223–227. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2008.00841.x.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. G.-Z. Qian, L.-F. Liu, G.-G. Tang (2006). "A new section in Malus (Rosaceae) from China" (PDF). Annales Botanici Fennici. 43 (1): 68–73. JSTOR 23727279.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  7. "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 63. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  8. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus 'Adirondack'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  9. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus 'Butterball'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  10. "RHS Plantfinder -Malus 'Evereste'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  11. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus Jelly King = 'Mattfru'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  12. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus 'Laura'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  13. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus × robusta 'Red Sentinel'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  14. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus 'Sun Rival'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  15. Apple Tree Rootstocks Ecogardening Factsheet #21, Summer 1999
  16. Alaska Department of Natural Resources Archived 2008-07-19 at the Wayback Machine
  17. Biel, John. "Collecting and Training Crab Apples | American Bonsai Society". American Bonsai Society. Archived from the original on 3 July 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  18. "Crabapple (Malus) - Bonsai Empire". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  19. Walston, Brent. "Crabapples for Bonsai". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  20. "The Growing Guide". Stark Bro's Nurseries & Orchards Co.
  21. Rombauer, I.; Becker, M. R.; Becker, E. (2002) [2002]. All About Canning & Preserving (The Joy of Cooking series). New York: Scribner. p. 72. ISBN 0-7432-1502-8.
  22. "The Science of Cidermaking". Andrew Lea. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  23. Fraser, Anna (22 August 2005). "Properties of different trees as firewood". Retrieved 17 July 2008.
  24. D. S. Vohra (1 June 2004). Bach Flower Remedies: A Comprehensive Study. B. Jain Publishers. p. 3. ISBN 978-81-7021-271-3. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  25. "Malus x adstringens 'Durleo' 'Gladiator Crabapple'". Countryside Garden Centre. Countryside Garden Centre. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
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