Ornamental trees, such as crabapples and chokecherries, are planted in the home landscape for their flowers or colorful foliage. While chiefly ornamental, these trees also produce fruit resembling those on fruit trees. As the fruit matures, questions concerning their edibility often arise.
Fruit from ornamentals, such as crabapples and chokecherries, are not poisonous and can be eaten. In many cases, however, it's not worth the effort. The fruit of many ornamentals is sour or bitter. Some have very small fruit with little flesh or pulp. Others make excellent jellies and preserves. If you decide not to harvest the fruit, they won't be wasted. Birds and other wildlife will eagerly eat the fruit.
The crabapple is an example of a common ornamental that also produces edible fruit. Apples and crabapples are differentiated strictly on the size of their fruit. Crabapples are defined as those varieties with fruit 2 inches or less in diameter. Those with larger fruit are apples. The fruit on crabapples vary from yellow to orange to bright red. Some crabapple varieties color and ripen in August, others mature in the fall. (The colorful, persistent fruit of many of the newer crabapple varieties are actually an important ornamental characteristic.) While all crabapple fruit can be used in making jellies and preserves, large-fruited varieties, such as 'Whitney' and 'Chestnut' are the best.
A word of caution. If you are uncertain of the identity of a tree or shrub, don't eat the fruit. It's better to be safe than sorry.
This article originally appeared in the July 18, 1997 issue, p. 113.