I visited one of my local garden centers this weekend, ostensibly to buy two pots, some acid mix, perlite and peat for finally repotting the blueberries. As usual I got completely carried away and ended up with much more than I planned. But everything is needed for one project or another. While discussing the differences between loose Canadian peat and block form Coco peat for ericaceous plants (they are equal), I spotted what was unmistakably an apple tree against the side of one of the buildings. A healthy tree with three branches and almost 2 metres high. It was covered in bright, shiny leaves and upon closer inspection, I spotted three tiny red and green apples on slender stems, the size of cherries.
I quickly asked the gent who was helping me about it, but he didn’t know what it was (a pet peeve of mine about some of these garden center people). We called over another nurseryman and he confirmed it was an apple. I said it had to be a crabapple because of the tiny fruit and how they were clustered. A look at the label confirmed that it is a crabapple, namely, Malus Purpurea. I suspect is it the Neville Copeman variety, which I believe is native to the UK and is often used as a landscaping plant to line the streets in towns and suburbs.
Crabapples are so hard to find in South Africa. I’ve often read in frustration how American gardeners and farmers clear them out all over the place, or don’t have to worry about pollinators for their proper apples, because neighborhoods often have crabapples growing, be they wild or cultivated. I’ve spent months googling and calling local nurseries trying to locate one. So you can imagine my joy when I found this neglected but healthy plant on Saturday. This nursery never has apples…ordinary eating apples…so this one may have been a special order that someone never collected. When the nurseryman picked the tree up, we found the roots had grown out to the bag and into the soil. It definitely needed a new home.
After our little boy was born last year I planted an Early Red One apple tree for him, which is a descendent of Red Delicious. My in-laws then gifted us with a beautiful Granny Smith tree, as a pollinator. Apple pollination is a tricky business, because most apples are self-infertile. Not only do they need another variety to pollinate each other, that second variety must bloom at the correct time to ensure the flowers don’t miss each other, so to speak. Some will produce fruit without a pollinator nearby, but the fruit set may be very little, fruit may be ugly and misshapen etc.
In any case, the sweet red will be our eating apple and the Granny Smith will make a crisp, tart apple for eating and a pie apple. Now that I have the crabapple, I’m happy that I won’t have to worry about pollination. Crabapples are famous for their beautiful spring blossoms, which make a lot of pollen and flower long enough to act as pollinators for just about every full sized apple out there. Many gardeners plant them just for their ornamental value as flowering plants and for the look of the tiny apples in autumn. That is not me. I plan to use the apples for cooking, sauces, jellies, preserves and pies. Most crabapples are very sour, but some are palatable. I haven’t found any information on the taste of Malus Purpurea, so I’ll have to wait until the one on the tree is ripe. I managed to retrieve one of the fallen ones, pictured below. I may try it too.