Plant of the month: Hupeh crab

This Far-Eastern crab apple is one of the finest spring-flowering trees

Malus hupehensisMalus hupehensis makes a froth of spring blossom, with a dense covering of flowers emerging from buds of a delicate blush pink. The beautiful single, cup-shaped white flowers are softly fragrant. It is a spreading tree and can grow quite large, broadening with age (up to 8m height and spread) so resist the temptation to plant one unless you have a medium to large garden. Crab apples are largely undemanding as to aspect or soil and they do well in partial shade as well as sun.

M. hupehensis was discovered in China by Ernest Wilson who introduced it in 1900, however, it is also native to Japan. He is thought to believe that is was the finest flowering tree he ever introduced. It is also known as the Hupeh crab (as it was found in Hupeh province) or the tea crab apple as, in China, the leaves were brewed to make tea. The fruit are a glossy bright red and resemble cherries, usually hanging onto the branches until well into winter; a vital food source for wildlife. A word of caution, this crab apple is sterile and will not pollinate other apples, however, the fruit can be made into tasty crab apple jelly.


Planting partners

At Rosemoor, our most mature specimens can be found in Stream Field with an underplanting of Helleborus 'SP Sally' (Spring Promise Series), Pulmonaria angustifolia 'Azurea' and daffodils. Associated planting of shrubs include Rhododendron Vanessa Group and Viburnum × globosum 'Jermyns Globe' both of which flower at the same time as the crab apple.
 
Smaller trees can be found on the Woodland Walk bank close to the Linhay in Lady Anne’s Garden. This bank is covered in spring flowers in April and as the trees mature they will complete a spectacular display.

The beauty of this tree means that it should be grown as a specimen in a prominent part of the garden. The leaf canopy is not too dense, so it can be under-planted with spring bulbs, autumn flowering Cyclamen hederifolium AGM or with shade-tolerant perennials such as hardy geraniums, pulmonarias and hellebores.

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