|My watercolor of Riverside Park crabapple|
Have you noticed cascades of small 5-lobed white, pink, or even sometimes magenta blossoms on trees in your backyards, parks, and gardens? Spring is here along with the blooming of the flowering crabapples, Malus floribunda. Riverside Park, the park closest to me, is filled with the delicate blossoms crabapples and cherry trees, both members of the Rosaceae or rose family. You can tell the crabapples by their bark with its vertical fissures. If you get close to the blossoms, you will see that crabapples bloom in clusters of five and the blooms do not all open at the same time as you can see in my drawing—one has already dropped its petals, one is wide open, and the others are about to pop. If you remember where the crabapples are in your area, you will find the small apples in the same clusters of five—some will be red, some yellowish, and some close to rust colored in the early days of autumn unless the birds and squirrels have already feasted on them.
The Crabapple Grove in Riverside Park and the crabapples in the Conservatory Gardens of Central Park as well as the Bruckman Crabapple Collection in the New York Botanical Garden are part of New York City history. Many of them were planted in the 1930s and 1940s as part of the parks’ beautification projects under the federal Works Progress Administration under then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. What makes these crabapple trees special is their low hanging, gnarled, craggy, and multi-branched shapes, probably unlike more recently planted crabapple trees with their single stem (trunk) and higher branches. The Riverside Park and Central Park heritage crabapples call out to artists and photographers and perhaps to poets as well. By the way, I read that similar trees were planted in Clove Lakes Park and Silver Lake Park in Staten Island. Sounds like it Is worth a trip to see them.
Let me also tell you about the so-called walking crabapples of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. In Alec Baxt’s article, he writes that in 1911 the second year of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, “a showy crabapple was planted on what was then called Rose Family Hill, a grassy slope just west of the lily pools. In the century that followed, the tree’s limbs twisted upward, and even more so, outward.” And here’s what happened next, the branch that had grown toward the ground and outward had rooted fifteen feet away. The original branch had weakened and crumbled in part, but a new tree had rooted itself and ultimately became a freestanding tree. Baxt asks his readers: “When new growth takes off from old rooted branches, has an old tree become young again? Is it the same tree or a different one entirely?” Hmm. Trees offer us not only shade, beauty, and food, but they also may cause us to stop and pause and think.