For more than a century, the Arboretum has played a pivotal role in the study, introduction, and promotion of the genus Malus (apples and crabapples). Today, 514 plants representing 157 taxa (kinds) comprise our collections. These include 57 species, many of which were collected from their native ranges, primarily in Asia. The collection also holds 93 cultivars, which have been selected for certain horticultural merits such as flower size and color, fruit persistence, and disease resistance.
- Crabapples bloom in white and shades of red ranging from pale pink to deep purplish rose. Often the flower buds are a darker shade than the open flowers, adding attractive contrast on blooming branches. Many Malus species bear pink buds that open to white flowers. The introduction of Malus pumila var. niedzwetzkyana in the 1890s brought a new range of color to crabapples: this unusual variety has dark rose-red flowers, reddish purple fruit, and purplish new foliage, and was used in hybridizing to develop ornamental crabapples with deeper pink to red flowers.
- Most Malus species are native to Eurasia, but there are a few that are native to North America. An example in the Arboretum’s collection is M. ioensis, the prairie crabapple. This species bears large (1 to 1.5 inch diameter) fruit that provide food for wildlife when they fall but make the tree less desirable for most landscape uses. However, the double-flowered cultivar M. ioensis ‘Plena’ is popular for its fragrant, roselike, pink flowers that do not develop into fruit.
- Sargent crabapple (M. sargentii) was named in honor of the Arboretum’s founding director, Charles S. Sargent, who first brought seeds of this species to the United States from Japan. This naturally small-growing species reaches a height of only 6 to 8 feet but has a horizontal spread of 8 to 15 feet. It has white flowers and small (1/4 to 1/3 inch diameter) red fruit that persists into winter.
- Malus ‘Mary Potter’ is another crabapple with a Sargent connection. This cultivar was hybridized and selected by Arboretum researcher Karl Sax in 1947 and was named in honor of Charles Sprague Sargent’s daughter. It grows about 10 to 15 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. Pink buds open to white flowers, which are followed by ½ inch diameter red fruit.
- Most ornamental crabapple cultivars are small trees, typically maturing at 15 to 25 feet tall. A notable exception on Peters Hill is a specimen of M. x robusta ‘Arnold-Canada’ (172-52-B). At just over 40 feet tall, it towers over neighboring crabapples. In addition to its large size, this rare cultivar is noted for its showy yellow and red fruit and for developing good yellow fall foliage color.
- Crabapple flowers are beautiful, but individual trees are typically in bloom for only a week or two. Crabapple fruit, on the other hand, can persist for months, providing a much longer show of color than the flowers do. Many crabapples display showy fruit from September through at least November, and cultivars with highly persistent fruit may carry on the show through much of the winter. One of the best cultivars for colorful, persistent fruit is ‘Donald Wyman’, an Arboretum introduction named in honor of the long-time Arboretum horticulturist. Its 3/8 inch diameter bright red fruits are showy in fall and winter, and often some fruit is still present when the tree begins to bloom in the spring.
- Tea crabapple, Malus hupehensis, has a distinctive vase-shaped growth habit. Native to China, this species was introduced to the United States by the Arboretum after noted plant explorer E. H. Wilson brought seeds back from his 1908 China expedition. Tea crabapple often develops purplish fall foliage color, which contrasts nicely with its red-blushed yellow fruit.
The Arboretum’s core collection of Malus species (apples and crabapples) is located on the north and east sides of Peters Hill. The collection lies about a ten minute walk from the Mendum Street Gate, and less than five minutes from the Peters Hill Gate and the Poplar Gate. View the Malus collection from Peters Hill Road, or explore plants sited farther up Peters Hill by walking on the grassy slope. If driving, park along Bussey Street or in front of the Poplar Gate.
Additional Malus species can be found in the Bradley Rosaceous Collection. The collection is adjacent to the Forest Hills Gate, about fifteen minutes from the Arborway Gate, and about thirty minutes from the Bussey Street Gate. Walk to the collection from Meadow Road or Willow Path. If driving, park along the Arborway.
Peters Hill has the highest elevation in the Arboretum. Peters Hill Road is fully paved; it circles the base of the hill and has a moderate incline in its northwest section. Many of the plants in the Malus collection can be viewed from Peters Hill Road. Portions of the collection grow on the steep, grassy slopes of the hill.
Download a self-guided tour [pdf] of the crabapple collection, and look for a sign at the top of Peters Hill describing the hill’s geology, how the crabapple collection developed, and the role of the Arboretum as an urban ecosystem. An information kiosk at the Bussey Street Gate provides seasonal updates. Map tables at the Peters Hill Gate, the Poplar Gate, and the Mendum Street Gate provide Arboretum wayfinding information.
New! Link to a tour of this collection on Arboretum Explorer. Our new web application allows you to take self-guided tours of featured plants in our landscape. Follow this link and you will see colored leaf icons. Click/tap on an icon to get a plant name and image; click/tap the circled “i” on the right to get more detailed information. For more information on how to use the mobile application click/tap on “Help” in the menu.
How long should I explore?
Plan to spend about fifteen minutes exploring the Malus collection on Peters Hill, and longer when the plants are in bloom in May. Peters Hill Road is a loop that takes approximately thirty minutes to walk.
Plan your visit to the Arboretum.
- Sax, Miles. 2011 A Year With the Apples of the Arnold Arboretum. Arnoldia 69(2): 29. [pdf]
- Dosmann, Michael S. 2009. Malus at the Arnold Arboretum: An Ongoing Legacy. Arnoldia 67(2): 14-21. [pdf]
- Iles, Jeff. 2009. Crabapples… With no Apologies. Arnoldia 67(2): 2-13. [pdf]
- Yanny, Michael. 1991. The Shy Yet Elegant Crabapple-‘Blanche Ames’. Arnoldia 51(1): 33-37. [pdf]
Search for related articles in Arnoldia, the magazine of the Arnold Arboretum.