Skip to Content

The Prairie Crabapple Tree

The Prairie Crabapple, more commonly called the “Iowa Crab” or “Iowa Crabapple,” is a crabapple variety tree variety found primarily in the prairie regions of the upper Mississippi Valley. Prairie wildlife loves this tree!

While you’re probably not sitting under the tree eating its fruit, the tree provides ample shade for a summertime escape. Read on to learn about the Prairie Crabapple Tree to confidently decide if planting one in your yard is right for you.

Prairie crabapple at the arboretum, in Budapest. Photographed at autumn.

Characteristics of the Prairie Crabapple Tree

The Prairie Crabapple Tree is known for bearing decadent white or pink flowers. Small apple berries appear in the summer that are somewhat safe to eat, but you won’t want to eat them straight off the vine.

The tree’s fruit is green to yellow, oval, and about one inch in diameter with brown inside. This crabapple’s leaves and seeds contain hydrogen cyanide. While the fruit is safe to eat, it should only be consumed in small quantities.

At maturity, the Prairie Crabapple Tree reaches up to 35 feet with a trunk that can reach 10 inches or more in diameter.

The Prairie Crabapple Tree forms dense thickets from clonal offsets, making it a wildlife paradise.

Key Information about the Prairie Crabapple Tree

Ornamental apple (Malus baccata) fruits, prairie fire, among bright foliage, macro photography, selective focus, horizontal orientation.

Its formal name is Malus ioensis, and the Prairie Crabapple Tree is best known as the Iowa Crabapple or Iowa Crab.

If you searched for prairie crabapple, you probably first found the popular Prairifire Crabapple. These varieties should not be confused as they are very different. The Prairifire is famous for its purple flowers, while the Iowa Crab’s are white and pink.

A late-season bloomer, the Prairie Crabapple tree is native to the United States and found across the Midwest and West.

Ways to Enjoy the Prairie Crabapple Tree


While humans rarely eat the fruit of this tree, if you wish to consume it, it’s advised to cook it first and remove all the poisonous seeds.

Crabapple jelly is a popular way to use the fruit from this tree since crabapples naturally contain pectin, the secret ingredient for the gel texture in jellies.

Use good-quality crabapples for jelly that wildlife has not bruised or damaged. Jelly is easier to make in small quantities, so less is better.

Wash your crabapples, remove all stems and seeds (you can use a toothpick to push the seeds out), and trim the blossom ends. Weigh your crabapples–three pounds is the perfect amount.

Extract juice from the crabapples by mixing them with about three cups of water in a large pan. Use medium heat to bring your pot to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. When the fruit softens, begin mashing it with a potato masher. Simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.

Strain the fruit for several hours or overnight with a cheesecloth covering the strainer. When you are finished straining, compost the solid fruit.

When you’re ready to make jelly, attach a candy thermometer to a large saucepan, then pour four cups of crabapple juice into the pan and add your desired amount of sugar.

Boil the juice over medium heat, stirring consistently until the juice turns to jelly, and make sure to skim off any foam that forms.

The jelly stage occurs when the juice reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit at altitudes less than 1000 feet. Once your candy thermometer reads this temperature, test your jelly by placing it on a cool plate. If it doesn’t run when the plate is tipped, you’re ready to start the canning process.


Cider is another easy way to enjoy the fruit this tree produces. There are two ways to make crabapple cider. You can either make it over the stove or ferment it.

Try one of these recipes:

Fermented Crabapple Cider

Stovetop Crabapple Cider

Attracting wildlife

If you love having a backyard full of wildlife, this is the tree for you. The Prairie Crabapple Tree is especially good at attracting wildlife because of its ability to multiply.

The Prairie Crabapple Tree is also densely branched, making it a good nesting home for birds like the Yellow-breasted Chat, Orchard Oriole, Song Sparrow, and more. Woodpeckers also enjoy the wide variety of insects this tree attracts.

All kinds of wildlife enjoy the fruit from this tree, so you don’t have to worry about picking it up. It keeps the following animals fed all winter: black bears, coyotes, gray foxes, possums, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, and deer.

Of course, you might not want all those animals in your yard, so if that’s you, cleaning up the fruit will be a necessity.


The Prairie Crabapple Tree also attracts bees and butterflies, the primary liaisons for cross-pollination. These insects feed on the leaves, flowers, and fruit. This tree is especially good at acting as a pollinator for other fruit trees like apple, pear, cherry, and plum trees.


Many people are attracted to the ornamental value that flowering trees like the Prairie Crabapple Tree add, especially in the spring. The large white or pink flowers add a lovely touch to landscapes and yards. You can also pick flowers for bouquets.

Growing A Prairie Crabapple Tree

crabapple tree varieties

Prairie Crabapple Trees are commonly started as seeds. You can collect seeds in the fall when the fruit is ripe (for free) or purchase them if you don’t have access to a Prairie Crabapple Tree.

If you collect the seeds from an existing tree, you must wash them to remove the apple flesh, then dry them.

Seeds must go through a period of cold temperatures to stimulate winter temperature called stratification. So, mix the seeds with peat moss and put them in a storage bag in the refrigerator for three months. Occasionally check the seeds for mold and remove infected seeds.

If the seeds start sprouting, remove them and plant them immediately.

Crabapple seeds require rich soil, a mixture of quality potting soil, peat moss, and perlite. Fill a container with this soil, then press your seeds into it. Your soil should stay mildly moist but not wet.

Seeds will take 60 to 90 days to germinate. Transfer the seeds into separate containers when they are about six inches tall. You can start to acclimate them to the outdoors once they reach 12 to 18 inches.

Learn how to plant a crabapple tree, read up on crabapple tree diseases, and learn how to prune a crabapple tree.

Where to Buy Seeds and Trees

Look for trees at local nurseries in the Midwest and Western parts of the United States. Seeds are available for purchase from Northwoods Nursery and Amazon.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I identify a prairie crabapple tree?

The leaves identify Prairie Crabapple trees scalloped around the edges that may be shallowly lobed near the base. These trees also have wooly hair on sepals, leaf stalks, and leaf undersides.

Are prairie crabapple trees high maintenance?

After the Prairie Crabapple Tree is established, it’s relatively low maintenance. Crabapple trees tend to be disease- and drought-resistant. The first couple of years is the most important while the tree is still gaining its roots.

The Perfect Midwestern Tree

Now you know all about why wildlife adores the Prairie Crabapple Tree. Consider adding this wildlife dreamhouse to your yard if you’re in the Midwest. The animals and insects in the neighborhood will thank you!

Are you researching crabapple trees to identify the best tree(s) to add to your yard? Then check out the crabapple tree page to learn about other varieties.