The Wild Crab Apple
By Julia Ellen Rogers
The wild, sweet-scented crab apple! The bare mention of its name is
enough to make the heart leap up, though spring be months away, and
barriers of brick hem us in. In the corner of the back pasture stands
a clump of these trees, huddled together like cattle. Their flat,
matted tops reach out sidewise until the stubby limbs of neighboring
trees meet. It would not occur to anyone to call them handsome trees.
But wait! The twigs silver over with young foliage, then coral buds
appear, thickly sprinkling the green leaves. Now all their asperity is
softened, and a great burst of rose-colored bloom overspreads the
treetops and fills the air with perfume. It is not mere sweetness, but
an exquisite, spicy, stimulating fragrance that belongs only to wild
crab-apple flowers. Linnæus probably never saw more than a dried
specimen, but he named this tree most worthily, coronaria, "fit
for crowns and garlands."
Break off an armful of these blossoming twigs and take them home. They
will never be missed. Be thankful that your friends in distant parts
of the country may share your pleasure, for though this particular
species does not cover the whole United States, yet there is a wild
crab apple for each region.
In the fall the tree is covered with hard little yellow apples. They
have a delightful fragrance, but they are neither sweet nor mellow.
Take a few home and make them into jelly. Then you will understand why
the early settlers gathered them for winter use. The jelly has a wild
tang in it, an indescribable piquancy of flavor as different from
common apple jelly as the flowers are in their way more charming than
ordinary appleblossoms. It is the rare gamy taste of a primitive
Well-meaning horticulturists have tried what they could do toward
domesticating this Malus coronaria. The effort has not been a
success. The fruit remains acerb and hard; the tree declines to be
"ameliorated" for the good of mankind. Isn't it, after all, a
gratuitous office? Do we not need our wild crab apple just as it is,
as much as we need more kinds of orchard trees? How spirited and fine
is its resistance! It seems as if this wayward beauty of our woodside
thickets considered that the best way to serve mankind was to keep
inviolate those charms that set it apart from other trees and make its
remotest haunt the Mecca of eager pilgrims every spring.
The wild crab apple is not a tree to plant by itself in park or
garden. Plant it in companies on the edge of woods, or in obscure and
ugly fence corners, where there is a background, or where, at least,
each tree can lose its individuality in the mass. Now, go away and let
them alone. They do not need mulching nor pruning. Let them gang their
ain gait, and in a few years you will have a crab-apple thicket. You
will also have succeeded in bringing home with these trees something
of the spirit of the wild woods where you found them.