Words: Southern Crab Apple

I had a chance visit with a friend this week and as chance would have it we got into a discussion of crab apple trees that are in bloom right now. I have an emotional attachment to crab apple trees and so does my friend. The crab apple tree in his yard was given to him by one of his friends. Plants that are given to you are always extra special. But the emotional attachment I have to crab apple trees is a bit more removed.

My father planted crab apple trees at our home when we lived in Fort Worth, Texas. The trees bloomed in the spring, and then in the summer they produced hard, red, quarter-sized, bitter apples. The fruit is what attracted me to the plant. Crab apples make perfect ammunition for slingshots. I know this from first-hand experience. You could shoot your little brother with a crab apple from pointblank range, knowing you could inflict considerable pain but no bodily harm. If you use a rock in your slingshot or a steel ball bearing, the pain you deal out will also actually injure somebody. But hard, little crab apples will break apart before they wound someone. The little boys in my neighborhood had crab apple wars every summer, and the tree my father planted was the ‘ammo dump’. It was kind of sad when the tree was finally picked clean by my seven and eight year old friends. (By the way, the fruit of a hackberry will serve pretty well, too, but we didn’t use hackberry trees.)

Coincidentally enough, I’ve ordered several crab apple trees from a mail order nursery this past winter, and I look for them to arrive any day. The type I ordered is Malus Scarlet Brandy, a pretty little tree. I suppose it’s a bit fancy since the standard Southern crab apple serves very well as an ornamental here in Nacogdoches County. The Southern crab apple Malus angustifolia , for sure, deserves a more prominent place in the gardens of East Texas.

Technically speaking, the Crab Apple is not merely an ornamental tree. It does (as I have said) produce fruit that many value, but I, for one, would not go to the trouble (or ask my wife to go to the trouble) of making jams and preserves from the small, edible, bitter fruit these trees produce. But many highly value jellies made from crab apples. I think I’ll look into crab apple recipes.

Still, they are well worth a place in the garden as an ornamental. They are good for naturalistic settings- under planted with jonquils for they often bloom at the same time as do these bright and cheery bulbs. I look forward every year to the tree’s bloom, and I am eager to plant one at my home.

Wildlife such as birds, squirrels and raccoons love the small, edible fruit, but the real payoff for me is the delicate flowers. The crab apple is a perfect, small, ornamental tree. They are as popular up North as ornamental, blooming trees as our Crape Myrtle is down here in the South. I suppose that is why my father (who is a Yankee) planted crab apples in Fort Worth. He had an emotional attachment to them, as well. They reminded him of home back in Pennsylvania.

through the mind’s eye
words & images © Jeff Abt
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Model: M8 Digital Camera
Firmware: 1.092
Frame #: 0147
Lens (mm): 28
ISO: 160
Shutter: 1/500
Program: Aperture Priority
Focus Mode:
White Bal.: auto
ICC Profile: Adobe RGB (1998)

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