Distribution Russia European
Far from being a widely accepted, ‘good’ species, this is a troublesome concept centred on a distinctive, local plant of uncertain taxonomic status, but with quite vaguely defined limits. Originally described as a spiny shrub from the Volga and Don river valleys, Yuzepchuk (1971) and Tutin et al. (1968) also included taller wild apples of southern European Russia here. Usually identified with either M. sylvestris or M. domestica (Juniper & Mabberley 2019, Yuzepchuk 1971, USDA/ARS, National Genetic Resources Program 2020), the tomentose underside to the leaf makes these plants sound like small-fruited M. domestica, or a result of M. domestica encountering M. sylvestris. Young trees from seed collected in the Volgograd region as M. praecox at RBG Edinburgh (Robert Unwin – Volgograd Expedition 34, 2014 – Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2020) and the Yorkshire Arboretum (collected 2010 by Komarov Botanical Institute, St Petersburg) should repay study as they reach flowering size. Of the latter’s foliage, John Grimshaw (pers. comm. 2020) observes ‘more sylvestris than domestica, but hairy’.
Note, April 2021: A specimen at the Yorkshire Arboretum from a collection made by G.A. Firsov and A. Volchanskaya in 2010 near the town of Schakin, Volgograd province, Russia, flowered in April 2021 (illustrated here). It is tomentose on all parts, though sparsely hairy at flowering time on the upper surface of the leaf. The calyx is densely white-tomentose on both surfaces. As suggested above it does suggest an intermediate between M. sylvestris and M. domestica. JMG