Contents

Can you eat crab apples? Three favourite crab apple recipes

Crab apple jelly

This is a taste bud-tingling amber-pink jelly. It’s perfect for serving with meats. You can pep up the recipe by adding a few chillies, a cinnamon stick, coriander seeds or star anise to the pan.

Ingredients

  • As many crab apples as you want to use
  • Enough water to just cover them
  • White sugar – 450g for every 600ml of strained juice

Method

Tip crab apples into preserving pan (no need to cut them up). Add enough water to just cover them. Bring to the boil, simmer and stir now and then until the fruit has turned mushy.

Allow to cool a little and then pour into a jelly bag and leave to strain overnight into a large bowl. Don’t squeeze the bag or the jelly will be cloudy.

Measure the strained juice and pour back into the preserving pan and heat slowly. Add 450g sugar for every 600ml of juice and add to the juice. Stir on a low heat until the sugar dissolves and then bring to the boil.

Boil rapidly until setting point is achieved (test by dropping a spoonful of mixture onto a fridge-cold saucer, as it cools it should wrinkle on the surface). Pour hot jelly into hot sterile jars and seal immediately.

The Surprisingly Sweet Secret of Crab Apples

Unless it is diseased, a crab apple tree will merrily produce crab apples with zero maintenance, though well-timed pruning will keep the trees healthy and shapely. We had a dry summer last year, and while the rest of my favorite off-property fruit trees struggled to produce a fraction of their normal output, there were unlimited crab apples for the taking.

Why, then, are people not beating each other down to get to these things? Because they are a pain in the ass. A harvester can pick ten pecks of apples in the time it takes to collect one peck of crab apples. And obviously you can’t just eat them out of hand. Even desirable crab apples are sour. This sourness is presumably the root of their name, given that crabby connotes a difficult or grouchy person, though another theory is that it’s an alteration of Scots and northern English scrab. The term crab apple dates from the early fifteenth century.

I am a sucker for underdogs, and so I adore crab apples, but with caveats. Their flesh, when cooked and pureed, is never silky like a good apple applesauce. It takes many crab apples to get much of an end yield, especially if you are coring and chopping their flesh to add to baked goods or chutneys.

Given the seemingly infinite variety of crab apples growing in yards and parks all over, how do you know which ones to target for harvesting? Simple: If you’re positive it’s a crab apple tree, pick one and bite into it. If you spit it out right away because it’s acrid and impossibly tannic, skip that tree. If it’s sour but also has actual apple flavor and a crisp, not over-firm flesh, it’s got potential. Dark red crab apples are pretty but usually more tannic.

Always round up the time you expect you’ll need to gather any significant amount of crab apples. It can take ages to collect a pound. This is why the residents of the fancy condos downtown see me return again and again to the crab apple trees that grow between their condos and the riverfront bike path. The trees are therapeutically perfect for zoning out under the dappled shade of their leaves at midday, and I like watching people ride by on the bike path. Getting a decent amount of crab apples is part of the point, but not all of the point.

If you are lucky a good tree may drop a lot of fruit in good condition all at once, but timing is of the essence in collecting it before it begins to rot.

As for the crab apple trees with fruit too unpalatable to use, I still find great pleasure in them. Many of their fruits cling to the branches all winter long, and some varieties stay red, like tiny cherries, months after the leaves have turned and fallen. They’re nature’s Christmas ornaments. In some conditions, these persistently present crab apples will slowly shrivel up as if they were air-cured, mellowing their bite and intensifying their sweetness. Take a nibble and if you like the flavor, try using them in boozy infusions.

My favorite pair of crab apple trees grow in front of a house not far from the city’s middle school, and the homeowner told me the many kids who pass by after school on their way home make use of the crab apples by pelting each other. Ah, the unbridled tomfoolery of the tween years. Throw them or pick them or simply look. Just don’t overlook crab apples.

Harvesting and Storage

As with their full-sized apple cousins, the fruits of different crab apple trees come into maturity from late summer to mid-fall, offering a huge window for crab apple experimentation. Remember: Taste before you pick!

Every time I gather crab apples, mosquitoes come to feast on my bare legs and arms, so dress appropriately or spray yourself with some noxious chemicals to increase your comfort. Bring along a canvas bag or even a half-peck paper sack to hold the crab apples.

Refrigerate crab apples to extend their longevity, but I find they bruise easily and get spoiled spots within a day or two of storage. Plan to process or cook them not too long after harvesting.

Coring crab apples is tedious as all get-out. I find the best way is to simply cut off all four sides with a paring knife, leaving behind the core. The yield is low, but it’s faster than pulling out a doll-sized apple corer.

Culinary Possibilities

Those with little patience for carefully chopping crab apples are best off with preparations that will ultimately be strained or forced through a sieve. Also, some crab apples (just like some apples) turn to mush after just a little simmering, while others hold their shape pretty well.

Think crab apple jelly, or toss a handful in with apples you’re cooking down into applesauce. In these cases, the only prep I do is to rinse them off and cut away any spoiled spots. Some recipes say to cut off the stem and blossom ends. I usually don’t, but I have found that roughly chopping the crab apples before cooking gives me more juice for my jelly.

Chef Andrew Whitcomb uses crab apples to make membrillo, swapping them for quince in the dense fruit paste. Another idea is to juice crab apples as you would for cider, and then ferment the juice for crab apple cider vinegar.

Recommended Reads

No Forbidden Fruit: Life-Changing Applesauce Recipe

The Apple: America’s Fruit

There are numerous reasons to consider planting a crabapple tree. Their ability to help pollinate other fruit trees, the tasty fruit, and their beautiful blooms make them a great asset for your yard or orchard.

There are other great fruit trees to consider, too!

JUMP TO:

  • Crabapples in an edible landscape
  • Why you should plant crab apples for the bees
  • Crabapples as pollinators
  • Why crabapple trees are a good small space option
  • The difference between ornamental and edible crabapples
  • Choosing the best crabapple for fruit
  • Are crabapples poisonous?
  • When are crabapples ripe?
  • Do crab apples grow quickly?
  • How long before I’ll have a harvest?
  • Recipes to use your crabapple harvest

What is a crabapple?

These fruit trees are related to the standard orchard apple that you’re familiar with, though the fruit isn’t as large (or pretty). These fruits are great for cooking with; use them as you would any other apple variety.

Consider planting a crab apple tree

When people look for fruit trees for a small garden, they think of the standard grocery store fruit: Gala apples, Italian Prune plums, freestone Peaches, and a few other familiar fruit.

Here are five reasons crab apples should be in your garden plans. (And yes, there is no consensus on how to spell crabapple.)

1. Crabapples are decorative

My crabapple trees are the first trees to blossom in my garden. They blossom longer than any of my other fruit trees. This gives me a full 3 to 4 weeks of flowering, at a time when the rest of my garden is just beginning to wake up.

In late summer the red and yellow blushed fruit hangs in bundles from the branches, stunning against the August greenness of the rest of the garden. The leaves hang on till the first killing frost and then change color quickly for a stunning display of gold and yellow.

2. They are early bee food

In spring my crabapple trees are abuzz with bumblebees and mason bees. The blossoms of these trees are a banquet for both native pollinators and honey bees. Since the flowering season for crabapples is earlier and longer, it gives those stressed pollinators a reliable food source before berries and other fruit start to leaf out.

3. Crab apple trees pollinate other apple varieties

Apple trees require a pollinator of another compatible apple variety to set fruit. Pollen from a crabapple tree will pollinate most apple trees provided that they blossom at the same time.

Crab apples are so effective at pollinating other apple varieties that old time orchardists would take branches of crab apples in bloom and put them in a bucket of water in the middle of their apple orchards. The bees would visit the crabapple blossoms and then visit the apple blossoms as they opened on the apple trees, improving the fruit set.

When you are planting apple trees in a new garden, plant a crabapple within 50 feet of your other apple trees to ensure good pollination.

4. They don’t take up much space

Crabapples can be huge, sprawling trees, or small garden trees depending on the rootstock chosen. When you are considering one for your small garden, look for one grafted onto dwarf rootstock. Crabapples on dwarf rootstock don’t take up much space.

Although these can still grow up to 12 feet tall, they can be easily managed in a small garden, with judicious pruning.

5. Crab apples are edible and dependable

Can you eat crabapples? Absolutely! They’re perfectly edible.

In commercial production of apples the crabapple is used merely as a pollinator. Often, these trees are bred only for their blossoms. (You may have noticed that it’s hard to find them at your local farmer’s market.)

The difference between an ornamental and an edible crabapple is the size of the fruit. Edible varieties have fruit that are about two-inches in diameter, whereas ornamentals have tiny fruit or no fruit at all. Plant a variety with medium to large fruit to get the most from your tree.

Which variety should you plant?

My favorite for a small garden is the Dolgo variety. It is one of the earliest to blossom in the spring. The blossom buds on the Dolgo crabapple are deep pink and open to large, showy white flowers. The fruit is medium size — about two inches — with good flavor and a strong red color that is visible in the jelly, the pectin, or the canned fruit. As an early bloomer, it pollinates the early-fruiting, heritage apple trees that I have in my mountain garden.

I grow it because it is hardy to zone 3 and will produce fruit in my shorter growing season. It has good disease resistance to fire blight, scab, cedar rust, and mildew. You can plant crab apple trees whenever your soil can be worked. Container grown trees, or those sold as “balled and burlapped” can be planted spring, summer, or fall.

Bare root trees need to be planted in the early spring.

Frequently asked questions about crabapples

Are crabapples poisonous?

No. All crab apples are edible. Some ornamental trees produce small fruit (others don’t produce fruit at all). These tiny fruits are not poisonous and are perfectly edible. However, ornamental crab apple trees have been bred for their beauty, not the flavor of their fruit. Fruit from ornamental crabapple trees can be somewhat bitter.

If you find an ornamental tree that produces tasty but small fruit, consider using the fruit in recipes that don’t require peeling or coring to save time, such as apple butter or apple jelly.

Ornamental crabapple trees that drop small fruit can be a good (free) source of food for your flock of chickens as well as food for wildlife. Plant one in their pen and you can enjoy the beauty of blossoms in the springtime and they can enjoy the fruit later.

When are crabapples ripe?

In the northern hemisphere, crab apples are generally ripe in the late summer or fall. Many trees have “persistent” fruit, meaning that even when they’re ripe they’ll remain hanging on the tree for a month or more.

Do crab apple trees grow fast?

It depends. Some crab apple trees grow faster than others. Ornamental varieties like Purple Prince (purple foliage) and Red Jewel are considered faster growing than others. Generally speaking, you can expect one of these trees to grow one-to-two feet per year.

How long does it take crabapple trees to produce fruit?

The climate and conditions in which your tree is growing will dictate how quickly it will fruit, but two-to-five years is a good range to plan on.

Originally published August 2015; this post has been updated.

As a child, you were likely told more than once to avoid eating crabapples. Why? There’s a common misconception that crabapples are toxic.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While crabapples do have a bitter taste and there are small amounts of cyanide in the seeds, they are more than safe to eat.

Are Crabapples Edible?

If you find yourself staring at the tantalizing fruits hanging from your backyard crabapple tree, wondering whether crabapples are edible, wonder no more. The short answer to this question is yes – it is more than safe to eat crabapples from any kind of crabapple tree.

Yes! Crabapples are edible, however, they may not always be tasty. Because crabapples are essentially just immature apples, they have a wide variety of flavors and may not always be palatable. Rest easy, however, knowing that you will not get sick from eating fruit from your crabapple tree.

What are Crabapples?

Crabapples aren’t their own distinct kind of tree. They are just a different size. Here’s an easy to follow tip – if a tree produces fruits smaller than two inches, it is a crabapple tree. If it produces fruits larger than two inches, it is an apple. That’s all there is to it!

The confusion lies in the fact that apples that were bred to be larger were also usually bred to be better-tasting. There are multiple varieties of ornamental crabapples that were bred especially to produce attractive flowers, meaning those fruits aren’t particularly great to eat.

In any case, eating crabapples won’t make you sick – but they might not be super tasty. The exact taste will vary depending on the kind of tree you plant, with some varieties of crabapples producing fruits that taste great even when consumed raw. Others will be extremely sour.

Ornamental vs Edible Crabapples

Apple trees have been cultivated for many thousands of years, with the domestic apple originating in Kazakhstan. This cultivar has been around for over 6,000 years, but apples were also eaten in steady supply by the Romans, Greeks, and Scandinavians.

Today’s domestic apples are large, sweet, and supple, with multiple varieties available including Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, and Pink Lady. All varieties of apples were hybridized from two basic originals: Red and Golden Delicious.

Crabapples, as previously mentioned, can occur on any of these varieties. They are a reference to size and nothing else.

There are some types of crabapple trees that produce tastier fruits than others. For example, Centennial and Dolgo crabapples produce tasty fruits that you can eat fresh off the tree. However, other kinds of crabapples, like Chestnut and Whitney, should be saved for baking into pieces, butters, preserves, or sauces.

Some crabapple trees are prized more for their decorative, ornamental quality than their ability to be eaten. Here are some popular crabapple trees that you might consider growing on your property.

Dolgo

This apple tree grows to about 35 feet in height and is prized for its ornamental and edible qualities. Most people prepare the apples from this tree in sauces, jellies, and ciders. These apples can also be eaten fresh. It is very resistant to certain diseases, like scab, making it a great choice for landscaping as it produces gorgeous white flowers and yellow leaves in the fall.

Centennial Crabapple

This dwarf tree is a good choice, growing up to eight feet in height in most cases. It produces delicious fruits that are great for eating raw or cooking in jellies or butters.

Chestnut Crabapple

The chestnut crabapple tolerates cold and produces a sweet, nutty fruit. This tree is a great pollinator, and holds up well to being cooked in sauces, jams, and other dishes.

Hopa Flowering Crab

This tree produces gorgeous pink flowers with white centers. It is a bit more vulnerable to disease than some other varieties of crabapple trees, but it’s incredibly tough and designed for growing in Zone 2A. It grows to a whopping 25 feet in height.

Whitney Flowering Crab

This is a shorter tree that only reaches about sixteen feet maximum. It produces lovely white and pink flowers that attract birds and other pollinators, but it can also self-pollinate. You can eat the fruits directly of this tree or you can use them in canning or other kinds of preservation, too.

Pink Spires Flowering Crab

The Pink Spires Flowering Crab is a narrow tree that makes it ideal for smaller chunks of property. It grows to about fifteen feet tall and planting one is a great way to attract birds and other pollinating visitors to your land.

This tree displays multiple colors in the fall, including red and yellow. It is definitely more of an ornamental tree than an edible one – this fruit doesn’t even hold up well when cooked into jams.

Where are Crabapples Found?

Crabapples are found all over the world but prefer to grow in mild areas of the northern hemisphere. You can find them in the temperature areas of North America, where they were introduced in the 1700s, as well as in countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and China.

What are the Health Benefits of Crabapples?

Eating crabapples offers all the same health benefits as eating regular apples. These fruits are highly valued for their diverse nutritional profile. You can get a ton of nutrients by eating these tasty fruits. In particular, crabapples contain the following vitamins and minerals:

Calcium Copper
Iron Malic acid
Niacin Phosphorus
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Riboflavin Tannis
Vitamin A Vitamin C
Amino acids Citric acid
Flavonoids Karyotin
Magnesium Manganese
Pectin Potassium
Sodium Thiamin
Vitamin B12

What’s interesting is that crabapples actually have a variety of medicinal benefits. Although eating too many of these delicious fruits can cause digestive upsets, counterintuitively that can also be used to treat tummy troubles, too.

Ripe crabapples have powerful digestive agents to help speed up digestion, helping to relieve conditions like diarrhea and stomachaches

Even the bark of the tree can be used to improve your health. You can grind it into a powder and consume it to reduce bile production, often associated with conditions like acid reflux. This miracle plant can also improve hiccups and throat diseases, too.

Crabapples contain high levels of vitamin A, so there is evidence to suggest that a diet that includes regular consumption of crabapples can reduce your risk of prostate cancer and fight premature aging. They can also improve your ocular health.

Because crabapples have so many vitamins and minerals, your immune system will benefit, too. These fruits are a fantastic source of vitamin C and also have a tremendous amount of iron. This can be particularly helpful to women, in particular, pregnant women, as well as athletes.

Are There Any Risks Associated with Eating Crabapples?

Crabapples are not toxic, but like all other apples, the seeds do contain cyanogenic glycosides – aka, cyanide. You should avoid eating the stems, seeds, and leaves of the plant to avoid any danger of cyanide poisoning.

Even if you do accidentally eat some of these inedible portions, you’ll likely be fine – the quantities of cyanide or so low that you’d have to eat a lot of seeds – over 200 – in order to have any ill effects.

That being said, because crabapples are so sour, it’s not unheard of for some people to develop some digestive problems after eating them. You might have a sour stomach if you eat too many.

Cyanide poisoning symptoms would be much more severe, causing issues like seizures and shortness of breath. Again, however, this would be extremely difficult to do.

The same goes for feeding crabapples to animals. If you choose to feed livestock, like pigs or cattle, crabapples, they should be fine when the fruits are fed in moderation.

However, if you have crabapples inside your livestock pens, you might want to do something to put the trees out of their reach (such as building a fence around the base of the tree so the animals can’t gorge themselves on dropped apples).

Can I Grow Crabapples?

Growing your own crabapple trees is a great way to double up on your homestead – not only will you receive a fruit tree that pushes out hundreds of tasty morsels each year, but you’ll also have a new eye-catching focal point on your property.

In the spring, your crabapple tree will produce gorgeous colors (which will also help to attract beneficial pollinators), and in the fall, the colors will change to another lovely shade.

Crabapples produce foliage throughout the year and most varieties work well on smaller lawns, as they don’t grow to exorbitant heights. They require very little pruning and are drought-tolerant. They can also grow well in challenging soils, such as heavy clay, as well as in harsh conditions (such as extremely cold temperatures).

To grow crabapples, first select your variety. Decide whether the appearance or fruit-bearing ability of your tree is more important, and then select a variety based on that factor, as well as how well it withstands the conditions of your specific growing area.

In general, you should select a cultivar that has good fruit persistence -meaning it keeps their fruits until they are mature- and disease resistance. Most crabapples are hardy to zone 4, but some can be kept in colder weather. Most crabapples will prefer rich, well-draining and slightly acidic soil. They will need regular water during the first year, but after that thrive in dry conditions.

How are Crabapples Prepared?

Crabapple trees tend to produce fruits that are small, round, and hard. They can be green with a pale pink blush or golden yellow. While most crabapple will be small and sour and not ideal for eating raw, you can make some tantalizing recipes with these fruits. The most popular options are jams and jellies, but there are some more unique recipes you can try, too.

Crabapple jelly is one of the most popular ways to eat crabapples. It’s a great choice because you add so much sugar to the mixture that even super sour crabapples will have a fantastic taste when prepared this way. Crabapple jelly or jam also makes a fantastic gift!

You can make this with as few as a handful or as many as several bushels of crabapples, depending on how much jelly you want to make (and how many crabapple trees you have on your property).

All you need to do is cook down the apples until they reach a mushy consistency, and then add sugar to make preserves. Then you can process the jelly in a water bath canner to be used up to a full year later.

If you like fruit liqueurs, either for baking or for use in cocktails, you’ve got to give crabapple liqueur a try. This recipe combines about thirty to forty crabapples with some gin or vodka, as well as ample amounts of sugar. It does take about two months to steep, so there’s commitment involved – however, it’s totally worth it in the long run.

Another option for crabapples is pickling them. Pickled apples are great for adding a zesty spin on boring salads or sautees, but you can also use them as desserts. You can also make crabapple sauces with cinnamon and sugar, or butters that are great for spreading on toast.

If you have a crabapple tree on your property, you might never know what it truly is. Why? Crabapple trees hybridize very easily, so it’s difficult to determine the exact origins or breed of a tree.

However, it’s always safe to eat apples off any kind of tree, so you don’t have to worry about getting yourself sick by experimenting with the fruits of mystery apple trees.

“If I knew tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree.” Martin Luther.

My grandmother’s crabapple jelly was made from the fruit of a “scruffy” tree growing in the corner of the yard. In my mind I still smell the sauce bubbling on the wood stove and taste the tart, flavorful jelly.

Crabapples are commonly thought of as ornamental, not fruit trees. The difference between an ornamental and an edible crabapple is the size of the fruit. Edible varieties bear fruit that are about 2 inches in diameter, ornamentals have smaller or no fruit.

Eatable crabapples, with proper preparation, are excellent for making jellies, jams, sauces, and pickling. Fruits from ornamentals are yellow, orange, or red, lending color to a long, monochromatic winter but are not suitable for human food as the flesh is sour and bitter, fit only for birds. Additionally, many of the double flowered ornamentals rarely produce any fruit. Some folk tales falsely allude to crabapples being poisonous, stories that originated when kids ate too many fruits and got stomach aches.

Cultural requirements are the same for all varieties such as full sun, a well-drained soil, and pruning in the winter to prevent spread of fireblight. With some exceptions, most varieties require another tree to produce fruit. Fruit can be messy when dropped on sidewalks or lawns. Bloomers have several crabapple varieties that grow well in our climate.

Dalgo is the perfect combination of ornamental and fruit tree, growing to 35 feet. It is ideal for home landscapes with excellent resistance to fireblight and apple scab. It’s fruit can be eaten fresh, is excellent for jellies (a deep red due to the bleeding skin), sauces, and is a great amendment to sweet and sour ciders .

Whitney Flowering Crab (Whitney Edible Crabapple), grows to 16 feet at maturity and is suitable for planting in sites where a tall tree is not desired. Whitney produces sweet, edible fruit perfect for canning, preserving, pickling, and spicing. It also produces beautiful pink and white blossoms and is self pollinating. Whitney is an excellent choice for attracting birds, is cold tolerant, heat resistant, and has some disease resistance. Leaves turn a beautiful yellow in the fall and the rough brown bark is picturesque.

Centennial Crabapple is lauded for the quality of its fruit and is fair to highly resistance to scab. It’s considered to be a semi dwarf, growing to 8 feet on semi dwarf and 15 feet on standard rootstock. Trees produce an abundance of red flower buds that open to a showy white, an excellent pollinator for other apples or crabapples. The bright orange-red fruit, sweet enough to eat right off the tree, grow to 2 inches; the crisp, juicy white flesh has a sweet flavor good for canning, jelly, apple butter, or spiced apples. The foliage is a dark green but has no outstanding fall color.

Chestnut Crabapple grows to 20 feet and produces large white flowers and has some disease resistance. It’s considered to be an excellent pollinator for other apples and is a good self pollinator when a single tree is grown. The 2 inch yellow fruit has streaky red blushes and some russeting. The flesh is crisp with a sweet nut-like flavor good for fresh eating, cooking, sauce, or jams. The fruit will store until Halloween if kept refrigerated. The foliage is a dark green but does not have outstanding fall color. Chestnut is considered to be cold hardy and adapts well to different soil types.

Hopa Flowering Crab is one of the biggest (25 feet), oldest, and toughest (USDA Zone 2a) crabapples. This older variety produces abundant clusters of fragrant, rose pink flowers in the spring and colorful red fruit in the fall. The leaves are dark green, turning yellow in the fall. Hopa tends to be more susceptible to disease than other crabapples, in particular apple scab and fireblight. The fruit tends to be large and can be used for jams and jellies.

Pink Spires Flowering Crab grows to 15 feet. It’s a relatively new and popular variety, having a narrow upright and columnar growth habit. Showy rose-pink flowers emerge before leaves and produce red fruit in the fall, a good bird attractant but not good for jams or jellies. The interesting foliage emerges as a red color, becomes bronze-tipped and dark green, then turns yellow in the fall.

Prairie Fire is a “show off” tree that grows 15 to 20 feet. The prolific red blooms are followed by an intense maroon foliage that matures to a reddish green then turns red, orange, and purple in the fall. The glossy, persistent red fruit are an excellent food source for birds but are not good for jams or jellies. Prairie Fire is very disease resistant to scab, rust, fireblight. This variety is prone to suckers and waterspouts that must be pruned when the tree is young.

Red Splendor Flowering Crab grows to a height of about 20 feet. This old variety is a “traditional” crab with its abundant pink flowers, persistent red fruit and red-tipped dark green foliage that turns burgundy in the fall. The fruit is a good bird attractant but is not palatable to humans.

Royalty Flowering Crab grows to 20 feet, with purple foliage that turns crimson in the fall. Keeping with this variety’s color scheme, it produces purple flowers and dark red to purple fruit. This is a very hardy variety that tends to be susceptible to disease and requires more frequent pruning than other varieties.

Snowdrift Flowering Crab only grows to 15 feet but spreads out to 20 feet. This is an exceptionally showy ornamental tree that is bathed in white flowers in the spring and orange-red fruit in the fall that attracts birds and butterflies. The fruit is not good for jams or jellies. The foliage is a glossy-green with no striking fall color. This variety has some susceptibility to scab and fireblight.

Spring Snow Flowering Crab grows to 25 feet and has an interesting tight oval growth habit. It is often described as narrowly upright and columnar, a positive attribute in a landscaping scheme. It’s a highly regarded ornamental that becomes covered in snowy white flowers but produces no fruit. The foliage is a dark green that turns a stunning yellow in the fall. Trees tend to be very clean and tidy. This variety is one of the best ornamental trees for home landscape use and gives a “formal” appearance to a yard.

Mother’s Day is coming. Bloomer’s will custom plant into any container a customer brings in. If planted now they will be ready for Mother’s Day. There will also be pre-planted containers available. More on container gardening in the May 18 Garden Column.

Email Robert Nyvall at [email protected]

How edible/palatable are crabapples?

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Are Crabapples Edible: Learn About The Fruit Of Crabapple Trees

Who among us hasn’t been told at least once not to eat crabapples? Because of their frequently bad taste and small amounts of cyanide in the seeds, it’s a common misconception that crabapples are toxic. But is it safe to eat crabapples? Keep reading to learn more about the safety of eating crabapples and what to do with crabapple fruit trees.

The short answer to this question is: yes. But there’s a longer answer to explain why. Crabapples aren’t actually a different kind of tree than apples. The only distinction is one of size. If a tree produces fruits that are bigger than two inches (5 cm.) in diameter, it’s an apple. If the fruits are smaller than 2 inches, it’s a crabapple. That’s it.

Granted, those apples that have been bred to be bigger have also been bred to be better tasting. And many ornamental varieties of crabapples have been bred to have attractive flowers and nothing else. This means that the fruit of crabapple trees, for the most part, is not especially good tasting. Eating crabapples won’t make you sick, but you may not enjoy the experience.

Eating Fruit of Crabapple Trees

Some crabapple fruit trees are more palatable than others. Dolgo and Centennial are varieties that are sweet enough to eat right off the tree. For the most part, however, crabapple owners prefer to cook the fruit into preserves, butters, sauces, and pies. A couple good varieties for cooking are Chestnut and Whitney.

Crabapple trees hybridize readily, so if you have a tree on your property, there’s a decent chance you’ll never know quite what it is. Feel free to experiment with eating it fresh and cooking it with lots of sugar to see if it tastes good.

You don’t have to worry about whether it’s edible – it is. And as for the cyanide? It’s just as present in the seeds of apples and even pears. Just avoid the seeds as usual and you’ll be fine.

Crabapple trees are a beautiful ornamental addition to your landscape, but many people wonder if crab apple fruit is poisonous.

With nearly one thousand different varieties of crab apple trees, knowing the answer to whether or not the crab apples on a specific variety are edible can take some research.

Luckily, I put together this guide so you can quickly learn if crab apples are edible, what types there are, and answer frequently asked questions including whether or not crab apples are safe for dogs to eat.

So read along as I give you pertinent details about crab apples and the trees they grow on, so you can add the right variety into your home’s landscaping.

What to Expect From This Article

Are Crab Apples Edible?

As a general rule, the flesh of the crab apple fruit is edible.

Crabapple trees are a close relation to apple trees, but the fruit is much smaller.

Some crabapple varieties will have a sweeter taste and work better for making jams or desserts. The fruit size and color also varies between tree varieties.

Flavor

Crabapple flavor is always tart, with some fruit varieties so extremely tart most people consider them inedible.

While standard apples can be eaten raw, people unanimously cook crab apples with lots of sugar to offset the tart or bitter flavor and bring out the apple essence.

Jelly, pies, pickles, and chutney recipes are easy to find online that use crabapples as the main ingredient.

If you have an abundant crabapple crop growing in your tree (or a neighbors yard), don’t let them go to waste. Give crab apple recipes a try!

Types Of Crab Apples

There are two types of crab apples, edible or ornamental.

While crabapple trees can produce a wide array of colors, sizes, textures, and flavors of fruit, the type of crab apple is determined by if you should eat it or not.

Edible Crabapple Type

Some crab apple fruits have a flavor worthy of making them into edible treats.

The top varieties of crabapple trees with edible fruit are:

  • Centennial crab apple
  • Chestnut crab apple
  • Dolgo/Dalgo crab apple
  • Pink Spires crab apple
  • Hopa crab apple
  • Red Vein crab apple

So if you are looking for a crabapple tree with delicious edible fruit to make preserves or desserts, consider planting or buying any of the above varieties.

Be specific when asking about crabapple tree fruit. Technically, all crab apples are edible, which could leave you with a bad taste in your mouth after spending money and effort to plant a tree.

You need to ask about sweetness, flesh texture, and flavor notes if you plan to cook up your crabapple crop.

If the seller can’t answer these questions, do a quick search of the specific variety online to ensure you purchase fruit that is tasty to cook.

Ornamental Crab Apple Type

The second type of crab apple is ornamental. The tree can be of average height, while many are dwarf, which makes it easier to incorporate into a homeowner’s landscape design.

The fruit tends to be very small, with a hard texture and high tannin levels. The taste will be painfully tart or bitter, rendering the fruit useless for cooking up jams or jellies.

While the fruit of these trees is not worthy of eating, they are quite stunning in color and shape.

After enjoying the abundant blooms of flowers that cover the crab apple tree in the late spring, you get the pleasure of several more weeks of color as the fruit matures.

The top varieties of ornamental crabapple trees are:

  • Malus or “Camelot” crab apple
  • Firebird crab apple
  • Royal Raindrops crab apple
  • Sparkling Sprite crab apple
  • Red Jewel crab apple
  • Sargent Tina dwarf crab apple

There are a few crabapple trees bred to produce no fruit at all like “Prairie Rose” and “Spring Snow.” But, most ornamental trees produce fruit that remains on the tree much longer before falling off than sweet varieties.

If you have pets, especially dogs, you need to be aware of the potential issues crab apples could cause.

Learn about this and more in the next section, where I answer common questions about crab apples.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Dogs Eat Crab Apples?

Dogs should never ingest crab apples! Here’s why:

Because, just like a full-size apple, crab apple stems, seeds, and leaves contain the chemical cyanogenic glycoside. This chemical is better known as cyanide, which is poisonous to dogs of any age.

The flesh of the fruit is not dangerous, but what dog do you know that will peel, deseed, and core a crabapple they find on the ground?

Common signs of crab apple poisoning include:

  • Panting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Red lips, gums, or tongue
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • A decrease in heart rate and oxygen levels
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Levels of this toxin are highest in the leaves and fruit during autumn, so be especially diligent in raking up such fallen debris if the crab apple tree is in a location your dog can access.

Do Deer Eat Crab Apples?

Deer sure do like to eat crabapples and show no signs of negative reactions to eating the fruit.

Deer are picky eaters and will favor juicier, sweeter variations and save the less desirable types of crabapple fruit until other food sources run low.

For this reason, you can encourage wildlife like deer to visit your yard if you plant a couple of different varieties of crab apples.

Sweet-fruiting varieties will provide food for the deer to eat early in the season, while more bitter-fruit types will bring them back later on when other food is scarce.

What Do Crab Apples Look Like?

Crabapples look like mini apples, with the size being the distinction between the two.

They are both members of the Malus apple genus. When the fruit of this genus is under two inches in diameter at maturity, it is a crab apple. Above that dimension, the fruit is a standard apple.

Crab apples can be as small as 1/4-inch in diameter, on up to two inches in size. Some fruit may have an elongated shape, somewhat like a plum.

Colors of crabapple fruit can range from bright red, yellow, orange-red, crimson, yellow-green, and reddish-purple. The outer skin can appear shiny or have a dull or “dusty” look.

What Does A Crabapple Tree Look Like?

It is a bit difficult to describe a crabapple tree since each variety will reach a different height and spread, display a unique bloom color, and produce different sizes of fruit and leaf. Trunk colors may vary.

As an overview, I can narrow down general traits all crabapple trees have.

Height

Crabapples top out at 30 feet, but most fall in the 15 to 20-foot range, which makes them perfect for yards for both privacy and to not interfere with power lines. Dwarf varieties grow up to eight-foot-tall and make a beautiful focal point in your landscape.

Foliage

Leaves come to a point and have serrated edges. The color begins as light green in the spring and darkens over months. As the weather cools, the leaves turn yellow/orange or red/purple depending on the variety.

The leaves (and fruit) grow in clusters. The leaves form an off-set pattern down the branch instead of directly across from each other.

Blooms

Flowers form in dense bunches in shades of white, light to dark pink or purple.

Fruit

The fruit hangs from the tree on long stems, looking more like a cherry than an apple. The size is under two inches in diameter.

Trunk and branches

Crabapple trees develop thin trunks and frequently are many-trunked as they stretch up into wide, dense branches that give the tree a round shape.

The color and texture of the outer bark become mottled as the tree matures.

In Summary

While crab apples are poisonous to dogs when eaten whole, humans can indulge in this tart fruit by preparing and cooking it correctly.

Crab apples make delicious jams, kinds of butter, and other treats when you select the sweetest varieties.

Crabapples not only attract birds and other wildlife drawn to the nutritious fruit it provides.

The bright, color-changing foliage and stunning clusters of blooms add tremendous visual appeal to your landscape during all seasons of the year.

I hope this crabapple guide inspires you to try crabapple recipes and maybe plant a variety or two of crab apple trees in your yard!

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