Sun exposure:
Dappled shade, full shade
South facing, west facing

European crab apple (Malus sylvestris) is an ancestor of cultivated apple trees, along with some cultivated varieties of crab apple. Mature trees grow to around 10m in height and have a rounded shape and wide, spreading canopy. However, it can also be grown as part of a hedge. Its branches can appear quite gnarled on mature trees, and develop spines – it's thought this 'crab-like' appearance may have led to its common name of crab apple.

Malus sylvestris has white-pink blossom in spring, followed by small, green apple-like fruits often flushed with red spots. It's typically found in hedgerows and the edge of woodlands, however it's notoriously hard to identify – it's thought that most 'crab apple' trees in the wild are actually cultivated apples, grown from apple cores discarded by people. True Malus sylvestris can be identified by DNA testing only.

Crab apples make excellent pollination partners for cultivated apples. Their fruit can be used in jellies and as a natural source of pectin for setting jams. Like most crab apples, Malus sylvestris is extremely valuable to wildlife: its flowers are pollinated by bees and other pollinators, its leaves are used by the caterpillars of several moths, and its fruits are eaten by birds and small mammals.

Grow Malus sylvestris in moist, well-drained soil in sun.

Advice on buying Malus sylvestris

  • Malus sylvestris may not be a available to buy from a garden centre, so you're best looking online
  • Malus sylvestris is available as a standard or hedging – make sure you choose the right option for your needs
  • Ensure you have the best growing conditions for your crab apple: good, rich soil and a sunny spot

Where to buy Malus sylvestris

Plant calendar


Malus and wildlife

Malus is known for attracting bees, beneficial insects, birds, butterflies/moths and other pollinators. It is a caterpillar food plant, has nectar/pollen rich flowers, is used for nesting materials, provides shelter and habitat, has seeds for birds and makes a good wildlife hedge.

Is known to attract Bees
Is known to attract Beneficial insects
Beneficial insects
Is known to attract Birds
Is known to attract Butterflies/​Moths
Is known to attract Other pollinators
Other pollinators

Is Malus poisonous?

Malus causes an upset stomach and is harmful if ingested. Its seeds are toxic.

Toxic to:
Is known to attract Dogs
No reported toxicity to:
Is not known to attract Birds
Is not known to attract Cats
Is not known to attract Horses
Is not known to attract Livestock
Is not known to attract People