Small tree to 10 m; crown broad and umbrella-shaped. Branchlets long, thin and unarmed. Leaves papery, 5–10 × 3–6 cm, broadly oblanceolate, upper surface glabrous, lower surface glabrous or slightly pubescent, apex acute, margins denticulate; petiole short, pubescent. Flowers 3–5 cm diameter, pale pink. Fruits extremely variable; yellowish, greenish or reddish, globose to cylindrical, 3–8 × 3–8 cm. Flowering April to May, fruiting August to September (Kazakhstan). (Dzhangaliev et al. 2003; Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
Distribution Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan
Habitat In apple forests or mixed with other small trees, primarily on north-facing slopes; 1200–1800 m asl.
USDA Hardiness Zone 4-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
The Kirghiz Apple is a wild plant of rather debatable status. As an ornamental the flowers are pretty, but the crabs are its principal feature. The unripe fruits look very sour, but mature to a good red colour and are merely tart: apple enthusiast Barrie Juniper uses them in his apple juice mixture (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
Juniper & Mabberley. (2006, 2019) regard M. kirghisorum as a distinct species occurring sympatrically with M. sieversii in the Tian Shan, and intermediate between it and M. baccata in characters. Local botanists reported to Barrie Juniper that hybrids exist between M. kirghisorum, M. sieversii, and M. baccata, but he did not personally observe any (B. Juniper pers. comm. 2007). Dzhangaliev et al. (2003) also treat it as a full species. Some have treated it as a subspecies or variety of M. sieversii. Plants of the World Online (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2020) goes as far as sinking it, along with M. sieversii, in to M. domestica. Fiala (1994), perhaps only through lack of information, lists it as a crabapple cultivar (Malus ‘Kirghisorum’).
Malus kirghisorum is grown throughout our area, but very uncommon everywhere, largely confined to botanical collections in locations as widely disparate as Los Angeles and Warsaw. The UK and Ireland champion at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Hampshire (9.6 m × 88 cm, 2017 – The Tree Register 2020) was planted in 1984 and bears a striking resemblance, it has to be said, to any old apple tree (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009). It has a broad, rounded crown on a short trunk. Others include trees at Kew (8 m × 78 cm, 2010) and the Yorkshire Arboretum (7 m × 160 cm, 2019).
Specimens are recorded from Belgium at the Arboretum Hof Ter Saksen, Beveren, and Ghent University Botanic Garden (Plantcol 2020). There are several at the Belmonte Arboretum, Netherlands, including three from the 1980s, although not of wild provenance (Belmonte Arboretum 2020).
In North America numerous accessions, some from the wild, are maintained at the US National Clonal Germplasm Repository, Geneva, NY (USDA/ARS, National Genetic Resources Program 2020). Publicly accessible collections which hold this species include the Arnold Arboretum, MA, the Morton Arboretum, IL, and the Holden Arboretum, OH (Arnold Arboretum 2020, Morton Arboretum 2020, Holden Arboretum 2020).