Malus fusca

 

Common name: Western crabapple, Oregon crabapple, Pacific crabapple

Scientific name: Malus fusca (also known as Pyrus fusca)[1]

Plant family: Rosaceae

Description: Malus fusca is a small, slow growing, deciduous tree (up to 12 meters) with bark that becomes deeply fissured with age.[1] The branches have sharp spurs on which the flowers and fruit develop.[2] The leaves are alternate and light green with pinnate veining.[1] The leaves are lance to oval shaped with edges ranging from vary lightly to deeply lobed, but pointed at the end with a curl.[3] The flowers, growing in clumps of 9 to 12, range from white to pink and bloom in April and May.[1] The fruits grow in clumps and are egg shaped, about 1 to 1.5 centimeters long.[3] They start out green and become yellow or reddish in color.1 They are crisp and juicy but tart.[4]

Habitat and Range: West of the Cascades from Alaska to California,[5] M. fusca grows successfully in almost any fertile soils, ranging from sandy to clayey as long as they are moist with good drainage.[1] It is generally found in low to middle elevations in moist woods, riparian areas, upper beaches, or next to estuaries.[1]

Historical and Contemporary Uses

The primary use of Malus fusca by Native American tribes is as a food source. They pick the crabapples in the late summer and fall. The fruits are eaten fresh, cooked, or preserved as a winter food. The Lower Chinook, Clallam, Cowlitz, Makah, Quinault, Upper Skagit, Thompson tribes harvest the fruit and then put it in baskets to ripen or sweeten and eat it later in the fall and winter. Halsla and Hanaksiala (British Columbia), Kitasoo (Islands off of British Columbia), and Oweekeno (BC coast, just north of Vancouver Island) tribes cooked their crabapples before storing them under water or underwater with fat to eat in the winter months.[1] Because of the high acid content of the fruit, it requires almost no effort to preserve or store for months.[6]For this reason it was and continues to be an important winter food for so many peoples. The Kitasoo and Southern Kwakiutl (Vancouver Island region) tribes both marked the importance of this plant with feasts and ceremonies. Numerous other tribes simply ate the fruit when it is ripe in the fall.[5] The fruit also has high pectin content. This quality makes it an easy jellying fruit and a good additive to low pectin foods for preservation. Groups in Alaska and the Makah of the Olympic peninsula in Washington both use the fruit in this way, as well as for other purposes.[6]

NOTE: The raw bark, seeds, and possibly leaves of this plant contain cyanide producing compounds which can be deadly.


[1] Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon. Revised Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast (Vancouver, BC: Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), 48.

[2] “Malus fusca Pacific Crabapple,” Washington Native Plant Society, accessed October 16, 2011, last modified November 8, 2009. http://www.wnps.org/landscaping/herbarium/pages/malus-fusca.html

[3] Washington Native Plant Society

[4] “Malus fusca – (Raf.) Schneid,” Plants for a Future, accessed October 16, 2011. http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Malus+fusca,

[5] Plants for a future database.  www.pfaf.org

[6] “Malus fusca,” Portland Nursery, accessed October 16, 2011.  http://www.portlandnursery.com/plants/natives/malus_fusca.shtml

Photo credit: http://store.plantoregon.com/catalog/MalusFuscaBranch.jpg