April rain drips from the purple-black twigs of the wild crab apple trees, pearls the pink buds and the crisp, spicy flowers, mats the petals, studs the new grey-green leaves. The fragrance of the wild crab apple flowers fills the moist, soft air, a Dianthus-like fragrance, a perfume which is peculiarly part of the Illinois country when it is spring and the whole tremulous pattern of growth unfolds in an April rain.
Malus ioensis (Wood) Britt.
April - May Roadsides, woods.
The white-throated sparrows pipe in the wet leaves beneath the pink-flowered trees. A wood thrush in a tree top offers a soulful carol to the grey sky. Insects are quiescent in the rain, but a keen-eyed little kinglet flits about busily hunting for minute gnats. And the fragrance of the pink flowers is one with the April song and movement and color.
The wild crab apple trees are low and gnarled and spiny. They make a thicket at the edge of the woods or along the road, low, not especially conspicuous except when they put pink bouquets across the countryside. Quickly, as the flowers go and the oval leaves mature, they assume their uniform green color of summer. And in the midst of the leaves little green apples form.
In September, in October, as the leaves fall and the polished stems show again, there are yellow-green, sticky apples which have as unique a fragrance as the flowers did in spring. The rich pungence of the wild crab apples, like the smell of autumn leaves, is part of the Illinois autumn. The apples are hard; they are exceedingly sour. They twirl gently on their stems in the late autumn sunshine, then drop with small thuds to lie mellowing on the ground. Many lie there all winter long, odorous under snow and leaves, and soften sufficiently in spring to be pecked apart by newly arrived robins.