Crabapple color: Brighter & longer in fall than spring

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Above: 'Ormiston Roy' crabapple is the 45 mph tree that started this show. 

Color really pops on December's gray days.

Plant breeding during the last 30-some years has given us many new disease resistant crabapples that hold colorful fruit long into the fall. Some hold the fruit right through winter. Gardeners embraced the plants for this additional season of interest, and the fruit's attraction to birds. So chances are that you drive past far more of them than those who were on the road in the 1960's.

We think the birds have adapted their habits to the presence of so many feeding stations, so that we city folk are seeing far more fruit eaters such as cedar waxwings than ever before. (Along with all the other animals who favor this fruit, from geese to turkey, deer, groundhog and fox.)

(Thinking of planting a crabapple? See below.)

We love the wide range of crabapple fruit color. This year we've made our best attempt so far to capture it, although it still falls short of conveying the full gold to purple sweep of color, and the luminosity of some. Given hundreds of crabapple varieties, dozens of those with persistent fruit, we may be a long time completing this collage.


A - 'Silver Drift'  B - 'Candy Mint'   C - 'Prairifire'   D - 'Halliana Spontanea'   E - 'Red Jewel'   F - 'Morning Sun'   G - ' Sugar Tyme'   H - 'Excalibur'    I - 'Adams'   J - 'Golden Harvest'   K - 'Sargent'   L - 'Dorothea'    M - 'Zumi Winter Gem'   N - 'Ormiston Roy'   O - 'Prairie Maid'    P - 'Tina'

To learn more about these trees' sizes, flowers and so on...


Our quest may also require lessons in fruit preservation, in order to compare fairly when days must pass between collecting from one type of tree and tracking down the next.

CrabDorothea2546as.jpg   CrabZumiW2560s.jpg See these larger!

Look at the difference in staying power of the fruit. Several days went by between when we collected and catalogued the fruit, then made the collage; the fruit was refrigerated in the meanwhile, as if it was outdoors.) Compare how 'Dorothea' fruits held up, as compared to 'Zumi Winter Gem.'

We'll look again in January, when perhaps the only trees in this group still hanging onto their fruit will be 'Adams', and the Sargents ('Candy Mint', 'Sargent' and 'Tina').


If you might plant a crabapple in the near future...

...go now to look at the collection in a local arboretum or botanical garden. Choose for the appearance of the whole tree. If you like it in early winter, it's a keeper of a crab! Better to choose for fruit, rather than flower color, since bloom is such a brief asset compared to the tree's fruit display.

'Red Jewel' in the foreground with 'Sugar Tyme' behind to the left, and to the right a floribunda crabapple. We tell you who want privacy to plant floribunda for its dense twigginess even in winter, but maybe after seeing the real trees you'll choose winter color over privacy.

CrabTreesComprd2306s.jpg (larger please!)

The trees you see here are in Hidden Lake Gardens, one of Michigan State University's off-campus facilities. Many other parks have fine collections:

the Arnold Arb in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts;

Cornell Plantations in Ithaca, New York;

Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio;

Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio;

Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois;

University of Wisconsin Arboretum in Madison, Wisconsin;

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, Minnesota;

Bicklehaupt Arboretum in Clinton, Iowa; and many more.

Parting look: 'Prairifire' showing off against the backdrop of a willow.


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