Shrub or small tree, 5–7 m. Branchlets slender, reddish brown, pubescent when young. Buds ovoid, reddish brown, scales with villous margins. Leaf blade broadly ovate, 4–7 × 3.5–6 cm, somewhat pubescent on both surfaces but hair soon lost above, margins doubly serrate with three to six lobes, apex acute; petiole 1.5–2.5 cm, pubescent. Inflorescence a 5–10-flowered corymb, 4–6.5 cm across, pedicels 1.5–3 cm, slender, pubescent at first. Flowers about 1.5 cm diameter, May in the wild. Sepals triangular-ovate, shorter than hypanthium, persistent; petals pinkish white, ovate, 0.7–0.8 cm-; stamens about 20, almost equalling the petals; styles 3–4. Fruit yellowish green with a red blush, subglobose, about 0.8 cm, August to September in the wild. (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009; Gu et al. 2003; Fiala 1994).
Distribution China Gansu, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Shaanxi, Shanxi.
Habitat Thickets in valleys or on slopes, 800–2600 m asl.
USDA Hardiness Zone 5-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
Conservation status Data deficient (DD)
Malus honanensis is one of the low-growing, rather bushy small-fruited Chinese crabapples, pleasant rather than beautiful in flower, but it may produce good autumn colours (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009). It has many similarities with M. yunnanensis and M. kansuensis, differing from M. yunnanensis in having only 3 or 4 styles and in pubescence characters; and from M. kansuensis in its more strongly lobed leaves, and rounder fruit with unambiguously persistent sepals (Gu et al. 2003; Rehder 1920).
The species was described by Alfred Rehder from specimens collected at three localities in Henan by Joseph Hers, a railway engineer based in Zhengzhou who collected for the Arnold Arboretum while going about his business. The specific epithet refers to Honan, an alternative romanization to Henan. Rehder clearly recognized its affinities, but felt that it was ‘very distinct’ (Rehder 1920). A diploid (Gu et al. 2003), several molecular studies group it with both M. kansuensis and the M. yunnanensis group (Nikiforova et al. 2013; Volk et al. 2015); Rushforth (2018) suggests that it might have originated as a hybrid between these, but the full story of relationships among these species is yet to be told.
This is a rare tree in cultivation, seen only in a few specialist collections, although seed is available in the wholesale trade. There is a specimen at Howick Hall, Northumberland, from Shanghai Botanic Garden seed (The Tree Register 2020) and three of Gansu provenance at Ness Botanic Gardens, Cheshire (T. Baxter pers. comm 2020). In North America, trees from two seed collections made by Hers in Henan in the 1920s were grown at the Arnold Arboretum at one time, but both were gone by the 1950s (Arnold Arboretum 2020). Two accessions are held in the US National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Geneva, NY (USDA/ARS, National Genetic Resources Program 2020).