Plant Collector: Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ – (Betchel Crabapple)

My first sighting of a juvenile plant in a Taranaki garden last spring

When I first spotted this pretty, young tree in a local garden last spring, I could not identify it but it sure was a charming sight. In Canberra a couple of weeks ago, there were SO MANY of these trees in bloom that I felt I had to track down a name. It is a flowering crabapple, a malus. The nurseries that supply Canberra are clearly making a killing on producing this cultivar (along with the pretty dogwoods). It is being used widely as a street tree on suburban road verges, it was strongly represented in the gardens at Parliament House that we visited and was featured in many, many (many) gardens.

It is a pretty blossom tree though it does flower as its fresh foliage has broken dormancy, so the display is not on bare branches. Crab apples fit a similar niche to flowering cherries (prunus), though many varieties will flower a little later. Unfortunately, with ‘Plena’, you don’t get the bonus of coloured crab apples later in the season, although it can be used as a pollinator for the fruiting varieties.

Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ , not a prunus as I initially assumed

I have not looked closely at the plants in New Zealand to see if they are cutting grown or grafted. The Canberra plants were grafted, usually onto a rootstock that had an attractive, smooth pale grey bark. The problem with the plants in the Parliament House gardens (no photos allowed so I can’t show you), is that the lower grey bark of the root stock for the first metre or so was not particularly compatible with the graft so the union – where the grafted variety meets the rootstock – was already a bit lumpy and not attractive. They were not as bad as the linden shown here, but neither were the plants mature so they may well get worse. If you like your trees to last the distance over many years, just be cautious about buying plants that have been grafted as standards well above ground level. The closer the graft is to the ground, the less obvious any incompatibility will be.

It is a very pretty tree and one I expect we will see become as popular in this country as in Canberra.

A very pretty and presumably well behaved street tree in Canberra




11 thoughts on “Plant Collector: Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ – (Betchel Crabapple)

  1. tonytomeo

    This is funny too because I dislike nandinas and I really dig flowering dogwoods! Flowering cherries are popular and traditional street trees in Japantown in San Jose, but they do not do so well with all the reflected glare. Flowering crabapples are a bit more resilient to that, although some types make fruit that can be slightly messy if the birds do not take it. Also, the trees need pruning for structure. They can get so tangled. They naturally grow as thickets, not as trees, so they don’t care how tangled they get. Unfortunately, ‘gardeners’ here do not prune them properly, and just shear them into bloomless globs. I actually just wrote about some in my neighborhood that don’t bloom. What is the point of growing flowering crabapples if they don’t bloom?

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Absolutely none! Bad pruning is another topic (more commonly seen here with wisteria and hydrangeas). Mark, my in-house technical advisor (otherwise known as The Husband) is nodding sagely in agreement with your comment about crabapples growing as tangled thickets if left to their own ways. We are not good prunus or malus territory with our high rainfall and high humidity. They tend to be short-lived but pretty trees here.

      1. tonytomeo

        Oh, Goodness! Wisteria! I just wrote about that! It might not post for a few days, but those crabapples I mentioned never bloom because of the pruning. I have seen the same with wisteria that are just showing color and just about to bloom, but then shorn and deprived of everything! . . . Just before bloom!

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        And hydrangeas – cut off just above ground level. “Why does my hydrangea/wisteria/malus not flower? I must have been sold a dud!”

  2. Philippa Foes-Lamb

    I spotted this beauty in a garden near Richmond, Nelson back in 2004… I had to have her.. such a gorgeous creature!! Mine is in full flower and is stunning at the moment.. So precious!

  3. Pat Webster

    Interesting to read this while I’m in the midst of planting a long allée (100+!) of malus. Planting should have finished a few days ago but we’ve had so much rain that we can’t continue — the holes simply fill up with water that doesn’t drain away because the ground is thoroughly saturated.

    Out of interest (aka curiosity), I clicked the link to the badly grafted linden. Badly grafted is an understatement — I actually gasped when I saw the photo.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That linden was in North Finchley where our friends live. You can see why I photographed it! Have you used a mix of malus or all the same?

  4. Susan

    Malus ioensis is also a popular ornamental tree here in Tasmania. It generally makes an elegant small tree with a pretty slightly horizontal branching habit. As well as the lushly beautiful spring flower display those trilobed leaves colour brilliant red, yellow and coral in autumn. My tree has surprised me that last couple of years with a heavy crop of fat spherical green crabapples, sadly they don’t colour up but are attractive, however I’ve not tried them for jelly making

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I wonder if somebody planted a different variety nearby that acted as a pollinator? It appears that the internet may not be accurate when it says this variety does not set fruit.

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