This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Not a trace of this plant has been found where fruits of Mountain Ash have been found. It is a northern temperate plant, occurring Generally throughout Europe, Western Asia, as far east as the Himalayas. In Great Britain it is absent from Monmouth, Cardigan, Denbigh, Haddington, the E. Highlands, except South Perth, and is not found in Main Argyle, Dumbarton, Mid and N. Ebudes, nor N. Highlands or the Northern Isles, except in E. Ross. It is often an escape from cultivation. It is native in Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The Wild Crab is a plant of the woods and copses, but is also found frequently in hedgerows or in parks, where it sometimes grows to a good height. It is associated with plants such as Field Maple, Hawthorn, Wild Cherry, Buckthorn, Cornel, and other small-timbered trees and shrubs. Often it is just a reversion to type of the garden apple.
The apple has a leaning habit, much as in poplars, but is more erect and symmetrical, a main stem dividing into numerous, finally small, drooping, and spreading branches. The Crab is a small tree, 20-25 ft. high. The branches spread out equally, forming a wide crown. The stock is short, giving rise to numerous branches, which repeatedly divide. Two varieties are known, the var. acerba (or syl-vestris) having a glabrous fruit-stalk, the var. mitis having a downy fruit-stalk. The Crab Apple is in flower for 5-6 days in April and May, and as a deciduous tree is perennial, and propagated by seeds.
The resting buds have a few scales, and the lateral buds are closely appressed. The buds produce three types of shoots: (a) long shoots, with distant leaves; (b) non-flowering dwarf shoots of slow growth, with annular markings and leaves close together; (c) flowering dwarf shoots or spurs, arising from the stouter branches and producing flowers.
The leaves are spiral in arrangement, simple, with short minute stipules. The leaf-stalk is slender and long. The blade is sharp-tipped, with marginal teeth. The surface is glossy above. The trunk is irregularly ridged with grey-brown furrowed bark, scaling with ease. The flowers are white, tinged with pink, and have 5 united sepals, hairy above. The petals have rounded limbs and narrow claws. The numerous stamens enclose the disk, which secretes honey. The anthers are cream colour. The style is divided into 5 branches. The fruit is an apple, with the persistent calyx above. The ovary is 5-chambered, and the thick fleshy coat consists of peel, a thick juicy layer, with a thin, tough, parchment-like layer, the "core", and encloses 2 brown seeds in each chamber.
The flowers are conspicuous and numerous. The honey is half-concealed, and secreted at the base of the flower. The flowers are much visited by insects. The flowers are sweet-scented, most strongly at night, so that the plant is visited by moths. The stigma ripens before the anthers, being receptive when the flower opens. The flowers last from 5 to 6 days. The 5 stigmas stand above the stamens, so that an insect visiting the flower touches the stigma first. The anthers open on the second day, the outer rows of stamens ripening first. In some flowers the stigmas and stamens are more or less touching. The flowers are directed towards the light obliquely, so that some pollen must fall on the stigmas, and self-pollination occurs in the absence of insect visitors and in wet weather. Self-pollinated flowers do not produce good fruit.
Photo H. Irving - Crab Apple (pyrus Malus, L.)
The plant is visited by Bombus terrestris, B. agrorum, B. lapi-darius, B. hortorum, Apis iiiellifica, Anthophora pilipes, Andrena albicans, HaIictus sex-notatus, Osmia rufa, Bombylius major, Empis livida, Rhingia rostrata, Syrphus pyrastri, Onesia floralis, Dilophus vulgaris.
The fruit is an edible, brightly-coloured pome or receptacle, with a softer pericarp, luscious when ripe, and is dispersed by birds and men.
The Apple is more or less a clay-loving plant, growing on clay, or a sand plant, growing on sand. A gravelly stony subsoil also suits it.
A number of fungi attack the cultivated Apple, which equally infest the Crab, of the genera Podosphcera, Entypella, Glomerella, Nectria, Sphcerella, Fusicladium, Tympanis, Sclerotinia, Pholiota, Polyporus, Hydnum, Hypochnus, Phyllosticta, Sphceropsis, Entomosporium, Bacillus, Falsa, and Armillaria mellea. White cotton-wool-like tufts are formed, and the branches are much distorted by Schizoneura lanigera and S. fodiens, which cause galls; and Scolytus pruni, Mytilaspis pomorum (a scale insect), and Lecanium caprece cause ravages.
The bark is also attacked by American Blight, the Fruit-tree Bark Beetle; the blossom and fruit by the Codlin Moth, Earwig, Golden Chafer, Apple-blossom Weevil, Apple Sawfly, Apple Suckers, Wasps; the leaves by Apple Aphis, Plum Aphis, Cockchafer, Garden Chafer, Green Leaf and Oblong Weevils, Dot Moth, Figure-of-eight Moth, Lackey Moth, Large Tortoise-shell Butterfly, Lappet Moth, Mottled Umber Moth, Small Ermine Moth, Common Vapourer, Winter Moth; the shoots by the Pith Moth; the wood by the Shot-borer Beetles, Goat Moth, and Wood Leopard, as well as many other insects.
Malus, Varro, is the Latin for Apple Tree, and has the same root as in the Celtic and Scandinavian languages.
The Crab Apple is called Apis, Aplyn, Applelyn, Apple, Apple-John, Appo, Appulle, Bittersgall, Bittersweet, Catsheads, Coling, Crab, Crab-stock, Crab-tree, Grab, Grabstock, Gribble. Koling, Leather Jacket, Morris Apple, Nurse Garden, Pomewater, Sap, Scarb Jacket, Scrab, Screyt, Scrog, Star Apple, Well Apple, Wharre, Wilding.
As to the name Bittersgall, it was often remarked of a soft, silly person, "He was born where th' bittersgall da grow, and one o' 'm fall'd on his head, and made a zaate (soft) place there". In Lincolnshire to gather crabs is called crabbing. An acid liquor-like vinegar is called crabvargis. It was a custom 70-80 years ago to pelt the parson at Mobberley, Cheshire, with crab apples on Wakes' Sunday, the Sunday next before St. Luke's Day. The name Nurse Garden may be given because of its frequent occurrence in nursery gardens.
On Twelfth Day, in Devonshire, they go "wassailing" into the orchard after supper, with a large milk-can full of cider with roasted apples pressed in it. Each person takes a clome, or cup, full of the liquor, and standing under the trees says:
" Health to thee, good apple tree, Well to bear pocket fulls, hat fulls, peck fulls, bushel bag fulls ".
St. Dunstan is said to have bought up a quantity of barley for brewing beer. The devil, knowing his anxiety to get a good sale for it, offered to blight the apple trees so that there would be no cider. St. Dunstan agreed, and sold himself to him on condition they were blighted on May 17, 18, 19.
An apple left after the bulk are picked was held to belong to the fairies. Squeezed between finger and thumb the direction of an apple pip, so shot, indicated a lover's abode.
" Pippin, Pippin, paradise, Tell me where my true love lies, East, West, North, and South, Pilling Brig or Cocker Mouth."
There was a custom of throwing apple peel over the head to secure marriage or the single blessed state, according as it remained whole or broken. An apple is thrown in the street in Sicily, and if a girl picks it up she will not be married, but if it is not touched the young person when married will soon be a widow.
An apple is eaten before a looking-glass on Hallowe'en in Scotland, when the face of the desired one will be seen. On Christmas Eve in Austria apples are used for divining. One is cut in two in the dark, without touching it at first, then the left half is placed in the bosom, and the right is laid behind the door. The desired one may be looked for at midnight near the right half.
A maiden having slept with one under her pillow on St. Andrew's or Christmas night stands with it in her hand on the next church festival, and the first man she sees will be her husband.
An apple was said to foretell long life, but to dream of one after the blooming is to foretell death. Dissimilarity between two persons is expressed by the proverb:
" As like as an apple is to a lobster".
Wild forms are often cultivated apples run wild. The fruit of the Crab is acid and tart, and the juice is called verjuice, and used for bruises and sprains. In Ireland people put it in cider to make it rough. All garden orchard forms are derived from it. Pippins are named because they were raised from seeds. The Newton Pippin, grafted on stocks found in other parts, assumes the character of the stock in a short time. It lives to a great age, and is very prolific.
The wood is used for turning by the wheelwright and the cabinetmaker.
Essential Specific Characters: 107. Pyrus Malus, L. - Tree, branched, leaves ovate, serrate, shiny, or downy below, flowers white or pink, in sessile umbels, fruit yellow, globose, tapered below, styles united below.