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, crab apples, wild apples, and rainberries.

Temporal range:
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.


Flowering crabapple blooms

Apple trees are typically 4–12 metres (13–39 feet) talI at maturity, with a dense, twiggy crown. The leaves are 3–10 centimetres (1+14–4 inches) 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).

Many apples require cross-pollination between individuals by insects (typically bees, which freely visit the flowers for both nectar and pollen); these are called self-sterile, so self-pollination is impossible, making pollinating insects essential.

A number of cultivars are self-pollinating, such as 'Granny Smith' and 'Golden Delicious', but are considerably fewer in number compared to their cross-pollination dependent counterparts.

Several Malus species, including domestic apples, hybridize freely.[4]

The fruit is a globose pome, varying in size from 1–4 cm (121+12 in) in diameter in most of the wild species, to 6 cm (2+14 in) in M. sylvestris sieversii, 8 cm (3 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 and species

About 42 to 55 species and natural hybrids are known, 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). The genus Docynia has been shown to be nested within Malus in molecular phylogenies. The oldest fossils of the genus date to the Eocene (Lutetian), which are leaves belonging to the species Malus collardii and Malus kingiensis from western North America (Idaho) and the Russian Far East (Kamchatka), respectively.[5]

Image Scientific name Common name Distribution
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, Yunnan, Zhejiang), Taiwan, Laos, Vietnam
Malus leiocalyca S. Z. Huang China (Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Jiangxi, Yunnan, Zhejiang)
Malus meliana Handel-Mazzeti China (Schuian)
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 Palestine, Europe from east section of Greek Thrace (Evros Prefecture) and southeastern Bulgaria
Section Florentinae (Rehder) M.H.Cheng ex G.Z.Qian[6] 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 Central Asia (mountains of Kazakhstan)[7]
Malus sieversii (Ledeb.) M.Roem. 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[8] 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

  • Malus × micromalus – midget crabapple

Fossil species


  • Malus collardii Axelrod, North America (Idaho), Eocene
  • Malus kingiensis Budants, Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia, Eocene
  • Malus florissantensis (Cockerell) MacGinitie Green River Formation, North America (Colorado) Eocene
  • Malus pseudocredneria (Cockerell) MacGinitie Green River Formation, North America (Colorado) Eocene
  • Malus idahoensis R.W.Br. North America (Idaho), Miocene
  • Malus parahupehensis J.Hsu and R.W.Chaney Shanwang, Shandong, China, Miocene
  • Malus antiqua Doweld Romania, Pliocene
  • Malus pseudoangustifolia E.W.Berry North America (South Carolina), Pleistocene


'Evereste' fruits
Crabapple bonsai tree taken in August

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.

Some crabapples are used as rootstocks for domestic apples to add beneficial characteristics.[9] For example, the rootstocks of Malus baccata varieties are used to give additional cold hardiness to the combined plants for orchards in cold northern areas.[10]

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 is placed near the beehives as orchard pollenizers.

Because of the plentiful blossoms and small fruit, crabapples are popular for use in bonsai culture.[11][12][13]


These cultivars have won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-[14]

  • 'Adirondack'[15]
  • 'Butterball'[16]
  • 'Comtesse de Paris' [17]
  • 'Evereste'[18]
  • 'Jelly King'='Mattfru'[19]
  • 'Laura'[20]
  • Malus × robusta 'Red Sentinel'[21]
  • 'Sun Rival'[22]

Other varieties are dealt with under their species names.


The seeds contain cyanide compounds.[23]


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, so is rarely eaten raw. In some Southeast Asian cultures, they are valued as a sour condiment, sometimes eaten with salt and chilli 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.[24]

Crabapples are an excellent source of pectin, and their juice can be made into a ruby-coloured preserve with a full, spicy flavour.[25] A small percentage of crabapples in cider makes a more interesting flavour.[26] 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.

Applewood gives off a pleasant scent when burned, and smoke from an applewood fire gives an excellent flavour to smoked foods.[27] It is easier to cut when green; dry applewood is exceedingly difficult to carve by hand.[27] It is a good wood for cooking fires because it burns hot and slow, without producing much flame.[27]


  1. Cirrus Digital Purple Prince Crabapple
  2. Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  3. Phipps, James B.; Robertson, Kenneth R.; Smith, Paul G.; Rohrer, Joseph R. (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. Liu, Bin‐Bin; Ren, Chen; Kwak, Myounghai; Hodel, Richard G.J.; Xu, Chao; He, Jian; Zhou, Wen‐Bin; Huang, Chien‐Hsun; Ma, Hong; Qian, Guan‐Ze; Hong, De‐Yuan; Wen, Jun (May 2022). "Phylogenomic conflict analyses in the apple genus Malus s.l. reveal widespread hybridization and allopolyploidy driving diversification, with insights into the complex biogeographic history in the Northern Hemisphere". Journal of Integrative Plant Biology. 64 (5): 1020–1043. doi:10.1111/jipb.13246. ISSN 1672-9072. PMID 35274452. S2CID 247384781.
  6. Qian, Guan-ZE; Liu, Lian-FEN; Hong, DE-Yuan; Tang, Geng-GUO (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.
  7. "The History of the "Forbidden" Fruit". National Geographic Partners. 22 July 2014. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
  8. Qian, Guan-Ze; Liu, Lian-Fen; Tang, Geng-Guo (2006). "A new section in Malus (Rosaceae) from China" (PDF). Annales Botanici Fennici. 43 (1): 68–73. JSTOR 23727279.
  9. Apple Tree Rootstocks Ecogardening Factsheet #21, Summer 1999
  10. [ Alaska Department of Natural Resources Archived 2008-07-19 at the Wayback Machine
  11. 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.
  12. "Crabapple (Malus) - Bonsai Empire". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  13. Walston, Brent. "Crabapples for Bonsai". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  14. "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 63. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  15. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus 'Adirondack'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  16. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus 'Butterball'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  17. "Malus 'Comtesse de Paris'". RHS. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  18. "RHS Plantfinder -Malus 'Evereste'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  19. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus Jelly King = 'Mattfru'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  20. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus 'Laura'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  21. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus × robusta 'Red Sentinel'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  22. "RHS Plantfinder - Malus 'Sun Rival'". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  23. The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants. United States Department of the Army. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2009. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-60239-692-0. OCLC 277203364.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  24. "The Growing Guide". Stark Bro's Nurseries & Orchards Co. Archived from the original on 2014-07-26.
  25. 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.
  26. "The Science of Cidermaking". Andrew Lea. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  27. Fraser, Anna (22 August 2005). "Properties of different trees as firewood". Retrieved 17 July 2008.
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