Malus sylvestris flowers. Getty Images

Malus sylvestris

Crab apple

  • Botanical name: Malus sylvestris
  • Common name: Crab apple
  • Family: Rosacaeae
  • Plant Type: Tree, Deciduous
Flower colour:



Foliage colour:


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

How to grow Malus sylvestris

  • Plant size

    12m height

    8m spread

  • Aspect

    South facing, west facing

  • Sun exposure: Dappled shade, full shade

Malus sylvestris and wildlife

Malus sylvestris 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.

Attractive to Bees

Attractive to Beneficial insects

Attractive to Birds

Attractive to Butterflies​/​Moths

Attractive to Other pollinators

Is Malus sylvestris poisonous?

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

Toxic to:

Toxic to Dogs

No reported toxicity to:

No reported toxicity to Birds

No reported toxicity to Cats

No reported toxicity to Horses

No reported toxicity to Livestock

No reported toxicity to People