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Malus sylvestris - Mill.                
Common Name Crab Apple, European crab apple
Family Rosaceae
Synonyms M. acerba. M. communis sylvestris. Pyrus malus.
Known Hazards All members of this genus contain the toxin hydrogen cyanide in their seeds and possibly also in their leaves, but not in their fruits. Hydrogen cyanide is the substance that gives almonds their characteristic taste but it should only be consumed in very small quantities. Apple seeds do not normally contain very high quantities of hydrogen cyanide but, even so, should not be consumed in very large quantities. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.
Habitats Woods, scrub and hedges, especially in oak woods, on neutral to calcareous soils[9, 17, 200].
Range Europe, including Britain, from Scandanavia south and east to Spain, Greece and S.W. Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of lolypop
Malus sylvestris is a deciduous Tree growing to 10 m (32ft 10in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 4 and is not frost tender. It is in flower in May, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.It is noted for attracting wildlife.

USDA hardiness zone : 4-8

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Malus sylvestris Crab Apple, European crab apple
Malus sylvestris Crab Apple, European crab apple
Woodland Garden Secondary; Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Fruit;  Oil.
Edible Uses: Oil;  Pectin;  Pectin;  Tea.

Fruit - raw or cooked[9, 15]. Used for jellies, preserves and juices[183]. The flavour improves considerably if the fruit is not harvested until it has been frosted[12]. The fruit is quite variable in size (it is about 2 - 4cm in diameter[200]) and quality. Whilst usually harsh and acid, some forms are quite sweet and can be eaten out of hand[K]. The fruit is rich in pectin and can be used in helping other fruits to set when making jam etc[61, 142]. Pectin is also said to protect the body against radiation[201]. An edible oil can be obtained from the seed[4]. It would only really be viable to use these seeds as an oil source if the fruit was being used for some purpose such as making cider and then the seeds could be extracted from the remaining pulp[K]. A very pleasant tea can be made from the leaves[7].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Anthelmintic;  Antibacterial;  Astringent;  Hypnotic;  Laxative;  Refrigerant.

The fruit is astringent and laxative[4, 9]. The crushed fruit pulp can be used as a poultice to heal inflammations or small flesh wounds[7]. The fruit is eaten to obviate constipation[240]. The bark, and especially the root bark, is anthelmintic, refrigerant and soporific[218, 240]. An infusion is used in the treatment of intermittent, remittent and bilious fevers[4, 240]. The leaves contain up to 2.4% of an antibacterial substance called 'florin'[240]. This inhibits the growth of a number of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria in as low a concentration as 30 ppm[240].
Other Uses
Dye;  Fuel;  Oil;  Pectin;  Pectin.

The fruit is a source of pectin[61, 142]. Pectin is used as a thickener in jams etc and as a culture medium in laboratories. A red to yellow dye is obtained from the bark[257]. The wood is an excellent fuel[67].
Cultivation details                                         
An easily grown plant, it succeeds in most fertile soils, including heavy ones, preferring a moisture retentive well-drained loamy soil[1, 98, 200]. Prefers a sunny position but succeeds in partial shade though it fruits less well in such a situation[186, 200]. Fairly tolerant of cutting, it succeeds in a mixed hedgerow[186]. A parent of the cultivated apple[11], it is often used as a rootstock[50]. The fruit is a good wildlife food source, especially for birds[200]. The plant has over 90 associated insect species[24]. Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus[200]. Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus[200].
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. It usually germinates in late winter. Stored seed requires stratification for 3 months at 1°c and should be sown in a cold frame as soon as it is received[200]. It might not germinate for 12 months or more. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. If given a rich compost they usually grow away quickly and can be large enough to plant out in late summer, though consider giving them some protection from the cold in their first winter. Otherwise, keep them in pots in a cold frame and plant them out in late spring of the following year. Cuttings of mature wood, November in a frame[11].
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[11]Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
[12]Loewenfeld. C. and Back. P. Britain's Wild Larder.
A handy pocket guide.
[15]Bryan. J. and Castle. C. Edible Ornamental Garden.
A small book with interesting ideas for edible plants in the ornamental garden.
[17]Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles.
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
[24]Baines. C. Making a Wildlife Garden.
Fairly good with lots of ideas about creating wildlife areas in the garden.
[50]? Flora Europaea
An immense work in 6 volumes (including the index). The standard reference flora for europe, it is very terse though and with very little extra information. Not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[67]Ahrendt. Berberis and Mahonia.
Not for the casual reader, it lists all the known species in these two genera together with botanic descriptions and other relevant details for the botanist.
[98]Gordon. A. G. and Rowe. D. C. f. Seed Manual for Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.
Very comprehensive guide to growing trees and shrubs from seed. Not for the casual reader.
[142]Brouk. B. Plants Consumed by Man.
Readable but not very comprehensive.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[186]Beckett. G. and K. Planting Native Trees and Shrubs.
An excellent guide to native British trees and shrubs with lots of details about the plants.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[201]Allardice.P. A - Z of Companion Planting.
A well produced and very readable book.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[240]Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement).
Very terse details of medicinal uses of plants with a wide range of references and details of research into the plants chemistry. Not for the casual reader.
[257]Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Larry B. Blumatte Sun May 1 21:21:52 2005
Hello, Could you tell me what Mail Order Nursery in the United States sells the Alma Crabapple? I planted one in 1989 and it was beautiful. Then in 1996 when I had a house built the construction trucks kept running it over so I had it taken down. Now I can't remember which nursery I bought it from. Thank you for any help you can give.
Elizabeth H.
John Fielding Sun Apr 2 2006
From an old saying The crab of the wood Is sauce very good For the crab of the sea

Bleaklowjohn Photos of countryside and moorland

Elizabeth H.
Myson Effa Sun Nov 23 2008

PLANTS profile AKA: Dougalsi, rivularis, & milflori, USDA referred to the pyrus designation as erroneous w/ the sic post script. This yr, '08 the sic has disappeared from USDA plant profiles, Modern dwarf pears & semi dwarf pears r grafted on to quince root stock & thus have a limited range. My grandparents & great grandparents grew pears on " local crab apple" stock for almost a century in Kelowna & Osoyoos in the Okanagan, BC, Canada w/ little problem. The modern pears kept dying out.. Being pyrus this plant can host pear, apple, quince, & medlar grafts w/ amazing freeze, flood, drought, & forest fire resistance. Historical note: 1 of the 1st Indian wars was fought over an Amerind planted orchard @ the mouth of the Alberni Canal (fjord) on the SW coast of Vancouver Is.

Elizabeth H.
Per Hansen Sat Jan 9 2010
You spell Scandinavia incorrectly as Scandanavia throughout your site.
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Subject : Malus sylvestris  

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