European crab apple (Malus sylvestris) Tree of the year 2013
The European crab apple, Malus sylvestris, is an uncultivated archetype of the apple trees in today’s apple orchards. The fruits of this archetype are small and barely palatable. The rather small cider apple is somewhat similar to the archetypical European crab apple, both trees that produce smaller fruit, with the cider apple’s juice being used for fermentation rather than direct consumption of the fruit itself. The fermentation process is popular in the German region of Swabia. As is known, there are countless different cultivated varieties of apples, all grafted by growers. This means that rootstock (usually consisting of robust wild forms) is combined with a scion that contains the desired genetics in the grafting process. The grafter has to pay attention to the selection of rootstock and scions, as their growth patterns could potentially not match. This could cause the grafting section of the tree to produce unevenly thick and thin growths in rootstock and scion, leaving a visibly uneven growth. The European crab apple, in contrast, reproduces by growing from seeds.
Apple trees are pomaceous plants of the rose family (Rosacaea), which means they are prone to fire blight – a contagious disease which affects apples, pears and some other members of the family Rosacaea. The only other threat to the apple tree is the Scolytus mali, the larger shothole borer, which can cause – in the case of full infestation – the bark to die and fall off. Overall, apple trees are rather robust. Still, they do require much sunlight – only pear trees need more – which is why apple trees are usually to be found on the clearer edges of the forests. The different apple breeds show varying sensitivity to frost, fungi like Monilia fructigena, apple scab, bitter pit, anthracnose or canker, or insekts such as aphids, coddling moths, or the winter moth.
Exposed to too much sunlight, due to excessive thinning out of the branches, apple trees can suffer from sunburn on the bark, causing the bark to fall off on the south side of the tree. In a worst case scenario, the entire tree could suffer and die from this sunburn, which is why in commercial orchards, growers white wash the trees to reflect the sunlight. The leaves of apple trees usually have four main veins, while pears have seven. The plumule (leaf bud) is much smaller than the flower bud. The latter can mostly be found near shoots that are at least two years old. This means that flowers and fruits only appear on trees that are at least three years old. This is a detail the grower has to pay attention to when pruning the apple tree. Apple trees can live to be 200, some even 300 years old. Most breeds are chopped down after 40 to 50 years when they yield less fruit. Since the trunks of apple trees rarely grown in a straight line and seldom reach a large circumference, apple wood is usually not used as construction timber. Because of its beautiful warm color, apple wood is rather used for small pieces of furniture.