The Ontario Heritage and Feral Apple Project  

COVID-19 UPDATE: Research activities at Canadian universities are currently restricted due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Please feel free to contact us, but our ability to receive and test samples is limited at this time.

Plant Population & Evolution Research Lab

The Sweet Crabapple (Malus coronaria) is native to the Southern Ontario's Carolinian forest zone. It's found as far north as the banks of the Grand River in Cambridge, with more unconfirmed reports from the Lake Ontario shoreline around Toronto.

Sweet Crabapple is the only native apple (Malus) in Ontario. A small tree of of open areas and forest edges, it produces pale pink flowers in springtime and small, green fruit in the fall.

Sweet Crabapple (Malus coronaria)

Hybridization with domestic apple

How to identify sweet crabapples

Research in our lab has shown that, at least in some populatios, a significant proportion of seeds produced by sweet crabapple are hybrids with domestic apple (Malus domesticus). The effect of this hybridization on the crabapple populations is currently being studied.

Use caution when propagating Sweet Crabapple from seeds! Seeds collected from sweet crabapples are often hybrids with domestic apple, so you may be spreading hybrids around. Hybrids may pose a threat to native populations.

Think you know where some sweet crabapples are growing? Let us know!

We will verify their identity and map out their locations.

Thorns:

• Most, but not all, Sweet Crabapples have small thorns on at least some branches. These thorns typically have a thicker baser, a constriction partway up, and a narrower end.

• Hawthorns have longer, narrow, sharp thorns that frequently occur in clusters and may branch off from other thorns.

• Domestic apples may have short "spurs" that are thorn-like, but these usually have multiple buds, unlike Sweet crabapple thorns.

• Most ornamental crabs lack thorns, although some Malus species have short thorns or spurs.









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Sweet Crabapple provides important nutrition for Ontario wildlife, including deer, coyotes and wild turkeys. While it can been used for cider, its sour taste and hard crunch usually does not appeal to people.

While Sweet Crabapple is not considered a species at risk in Ontario, its range is restricted to the warmer, southernmost regions of the province, and its exact status is unknown. Changing climate, habitat loss, and interactions with feral domestic apple may all be affecting its abundance and future status in Ontario.

Sweet crabapple trees are easily confused with domestic apples, escaped ornamental crabapple species of various kinds, and hawthorns. Here are some tips for identifying them.

Flowers (May or early June in Ontario):

• Sweet Crabapple flowers are a uniform, pale pink, with pink anthers

• Domestic apples are white, although they are often tinged or streaked with pink; fresh anthers are yellow, turning dark after pollen release

• With the exception of some horticular varieties, hawthorn flowers are white.

• Escaped non-native ornamental crabapples may be anything from reddish-purple to white.

Sweet Crabapple

Typical domestic apple

Ornamental crabapple

Fruit (Ripening late August or early September):

• Sweet Crabapple fruits are round, green to yellow-green, small (15-30mm diameter), and sour.

• Domestic apple fruit are typically larger, with colours including yellow, green, red, and streaked

• Hawthorns are smaller and red.

• Ornamental crabapples come in a variety of sizes but are often smaller.

Domestic apple with pink on petals and buds

Leaves:

• Sweet Crabapple leaves are often lobed with relatively large teeth. On some Sweet Crabapples, lobing may not be present on all leaves, so check carefully!

• Domestic apples and most ornamental crabapples are unlobed with small teeth

• Hawthorn leaves vary but some have a similar appearance to Sweet crabapple.

For more details on identification, see the Flora of North America.

Be aware: trees sharing characteristics of more than one species may be hybrids.

Sweet Crabapple

Domestic apple

Ornamental crabapple

Hawthorn

Sweet Crabapple

Domestic apple

Ornamental crabapple

Hawthorn

Sweet Crabapple

Domestic apple

Hawthorn

Tell us where they are

Malus species

Ornamental crabapple

Hawthorn

Domestic apple with pink on petals and buds