Small tree to 5 m with erect branches. Branchlets slender, brown, with fine down at first, glabrous later; buds dark purple, ovoid, scales glabrous or with hairy margin. Leaf blade 5–10 × 2.5–5 cm, elliptic, with fine down on both surfaces at first, glabrous later, base cuneate, apex acute or acuminate, margin serrate; petiole 2–3.5 cm, pubescent when young. Inflorescence a 4–7-flowered umbel-like corymb, 4–6 cm in diameter; pedicels 2–3 cm, hairy when young. Flowers ~4 cm diameter, April-May (China, UK); sepals triangular-ovate or triangular-lanceolate, 5–8 mm, pubescent below, white-tomentose above, only sometimes persisting to fruit ripeness; petals pink, suborbicular to narrowly elliptic, ~1.5 cm; stamens ~20, unequal, slightly shorter than petals; styles 5, about equalling the stamens. Fruit yellow-brown to red, subglobose, 1–2 cm diameter, August-September (China). (Gu et al. 2003; Iketani & Ohashi 2001; Bean 1981).
USDA Hardiness Zone 4-8
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
This is a hybrid of uncertain origin, presumed to be between M. spectabilis and M. baccata. It has been widely cultivated in China since ancient times where it continues to be used as a rootstock and as an ornamental, in addition to the fruits being eaten fresh or dried (Hanelt 2001; Gu et al. 2003); it is perhaps more or less wild in some areas. From China it was introduced to Japan, probably in the Middle Ages (Iketani & Ohashi 2001), and to Korea. It most resembles M. spectabilis, but can be distinguished by the narrower leaves, the hairy pedicels and calyx, and in the way the calyx is retained on some fruits but not others (Rehder in Sargent 1916).
As an ornamental crab its main virtues are vigour and copious blossom, clear pink from carmine buds. The long-stalked fruits are small, but far from minute. Descriptions of fruit colour range widely, from unambiguous red, or yellow-green, to yellow blushed red and ageing to butterscotch brown (Iketani & Ohashi 2001; Fiala 1994; Bean 1981; Gu et al. 2003; Jacobson 1996); in truth it probably varies with clone and conditions.
It was introduced to Europe from Japanese cultivation around 1845 by Philipp von Siebold, who named it M. spectabilis var. kaido in 1856 (Bean 1981; Jacobson 1996). Later introductions are poorly documented, but include one by Ernest Wilson in 1914, again from Japan (W 7748 – Rehder in Sargent 1916). It is nowadays a very uncommon tree of specialist collections, only occasionally offered by nurseries. There is a venerable example, labelled M. spectabilis var. kaido, in the grounds of Tortworth Court Hotel, Gloucestershire (13 m × 128 cm, 2012 – The Tree Register 2020). In Belgium it is recorded at Arboretum Kalmthout, and in The Netherlands at the Belmonte Arboretum (Plantcol 2020, Belmonte Arboretum 2020).
Fiala (1994) suggests an early introduction to North America; certainly it was commonly planted in the 20th century but largely dropped in the nursery trade by the 1990s (Jacobson 1996). Specimens at the Arnold Arboretum include one from Korean seed received in 1983 (39 cm basal diameter, 2015 – Arnold Arboretum 2020).