25.75 x 20 in | 65.4 x 50.8 cm
The Crab Apple trees that adorn our parks with violet color are probably the closest approximation to the way we drew trees when we were first learning to draw. We made a stick for the trunk, followed by a circle of green for the branches, and then dotted it with bright flowers. The result resembled more a spangled lollipop than a tree but strangely it was recognizable as a tree by everyone, especially adoring parents. Wild Crab Apples rarely look so tidy. Their crowns are more often irregular and they live in crowded thickets or sprinkled around under tall hardwood trees in the forest. Also, the wild Crab Apple has white or pale pink flowers, rarely as colorful as the ones I have painted here.
However, most of the Crab Apple trees in our parks are not foreigners. Their ancestors were native to northeastern North America. Landscapers selected specimens that had luxurious leaves, dense crowns and flowers of the richest color. Then they gave them places in full sun, fertilizer and pruning into a rounded shape. The result is the familiar lollipop tree, beautiful in the park, but not an appropriate subject for an art that celebrates undisturbed nature. From a distance the tree seemed more a product of human ingenuity than of the forces of evolution.
But with my face virtually buried in the branches I could appreciate details that owed little to horticulturalists: the crenulations in the surface of the petals, the long stamens, the jagged angles of the twigs, the coppery color of new bark, the twisting and folding of the rosettes of leaves each bordered by rows of little teeth—all features that have defined the Crab Apple for thousands of years. The Sweet Crab Apple tree (Malus coronaria) is native to northeastern North America.