flowering apple tree
Flowering Apple Tree - Photo by Bill Cook, Michigan State University,

The common apple (Malus pumila), also known as the orchard apple or domestic apple is a deciduous, small to medium-sized tree which can grow from 30 to 70 feet, with a short, stout trunk. The leaves are 2 to 4 inches long, oval to ovate in shape, with fine sharp-toothed margins. On top, the leaves are bright green and smooth; the leaf bottom is paler with fine white down. Unlike the prairie crabapple (Pyrus ioensis) described below, the common apple is not native to Iowa.

Hardiness: Zones 3 through 10 - depending on species

Growth Rate: Moderate

Mature Shape: Ovular spreading or horizontal upright.

Height: Dwarf varieties are 5 to 8 feet tall.  Semi-dwarf get to be 12 to 16 feet tall.  Standard varieties can grow to be 20 and 30 feet tall.

Width: Depends upon variety

Site Requirements: Grows well in moist, well-drained soil

Flowering Dates: May

Seed Dispersal Dates: September 

Seed Bearing Age: 4 years

Seed Bearing Frequency: Yearly 

Cultivation: A seed from an apple will grow a tree if planted in proper conditions, but the fruit of that tree will often be smaller and poorer than the apple from which the seed was taken.  Therefore, apple trees are most often grown from buds.  A bud from a strong apple tree is made to grow on the roots of a seedling apple tree by a process called budding, which is a kind of grafting.

Red apple fruit
Apples - Photo by Jerry A Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

The common apple originated in Eurasia, and brought to North America by early colonists. It is now naturalized in North America. There are thousands of cultivars exhibiting a wide variety of characteristics (leaves, fruits, flowers, twigs).

The wood is heavy, hard, and tough and used for making crafts, good for fuel, and used to smoke meat. The fruit, commonly known as "apples," having many domestic uses ( culinary dishes and libations) is also used as a food source for many kinds of wildlife such as white-tailed deer, black bear, raccoons and foxes.

It is suggested that wild apple trees seen in mountain habitat may have taken root due to discarded cores by lumberjacks and hikers (pack it out).

Pests that Can Affect Apple Trees

Apple twig with buds
Apple Twig - Photo by Bill Cook, Michigan State University,

Apple tree with fruit
Apple Tree - Photo by Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

White and pink apple flowers
Apple Flowers - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University








Prairie Crab ApplePrairie Crab Apple Pyrus ioensis

Habitat: Found growing in prairie settings, dry brush uplands and open woods throughout the state

It is said that the prairie or Iowa crab apple (Pyrus ioensis) is the most beautiful and fragrant of all the wild crab apples.

Is it an Apple or a Crab Apple?

The rule of thumb is if the fruit is under 2", than it is a crab apple, and if the fruit is larger than 2", than it is an apple. However, many trees overlap and hybridize, confounding a biological distinction between apples and crab apples.

Small, red, berries on crab apple tree
Prairie Crab Apple Fruit - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Crab apple leaves
Prairie Crab Apple Leaves - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

crab apple tree blooming with white flowers
Crab Apple Tree in Bloom, Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University







three varieties of crab apple flowers - two pink and one white
Prairie Crab Apple Flowers - Photos by Paul Wray, Iowa State University