Malus sylvestris
Rose family (Rosaceae)

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Malus sylvestris, the European crab apple, is a species of the genus Malus, native to Europe. Its scientific name means "forest apple" and the truly wild tree has thorns.


Wild apple has an expanded crown and often appears more like a bush than a tree. It can live 80–100 years and grow up to 10 metres (33 feet) tall with trunk diameters of 23–45 centimetres (9–17+12 inches). Due to its weak competitiveness and high light requirement, wild apple is found mostly at the wet edge of forests, in farmland hedges or on very extreme, marginal sites.

The flowers are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by insects.

Progenitor of cultivated apples

In the past M. sylvestris was thought to be the most important ancestor of the cultivated apple (M. domestica), which has since been shown to have been primarily derived from the central Asian species M. sieversii. However another recent DNA analysis confirms that M. sylvestris has contributed significantly to the genome.

The study found that secondary introgression from other species of the genus Malus has greatly shaped the genome of M. domestica, with M. sylvestris being the largest secondary contributor. It also found that current populations of M. domestica are more closely related to M. sylvestris than to M. sieversii. However, in more pure strains of M. domestica, the M. sieversii ancestry still predominates.

Distribution and habitat

The tree is currently rather rare but native to most European countries. It occurs in a scattered distribution pattern as single individuals or in small groups.


Its leaves are food of the caterpillars of the twin-spotted sphinx (Smerinthus jamaicensis) and possibly the hawthorn moth (Scythropia crataegella).


See also

  • List of Lepidoptera that feed on Malus


Further reading

  • M.H.A. Hoffman, List of names of woody plants, Applied Plant Research, Boskoop 2005.
  • RHS dictionary of gardening, 1992

External links

  • USDA Plants Profile for Malus sylvestris
  • Jepson Manual (JM93) treatment of Malus sylvestrisintroduced species in California.
  • Malus sylvestris in the CalPhotos photo database, University of California, Berkeley
  • EUFORGEN species page: Malus sylvestris. Information, distribution and related resources.



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Leaf size Leaf shape Leaf edge Bark Height Seed Seed shell Flower Flower type Type
Leaf size  5-15 cm Leaf shape  normal      Leaf edge  uneven Bark  rough Height  5-30 m Seed Seed shell  soft Flower Flower type  roset Type  Deciduous
5-15 cm normal uneven rough 5-30 m soft roset Deciduous
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Malus sylvestris [L.]
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