Sunday, August 29, 2010

Softer and sweeter over time.

A decade and a half ago, when I first moved to this coast and got hired on as a park naturalist, I faced a steep learning curve. I was good on the birds, for many have pan-continental distributions, but oh, the plants. So many old favourites missing, and so many new faces. The fact that my position started in early spring did not make things any easier; many of the deciduous species, yet to leaf out, were stingy with their clues.

There was one, a small, shrubby, shaggy-barked tree with sharp little side shoots, always clumped with others in wet places. Once spring got a little farther along and the tree flowered, it was clear that it was an apple. It was the Pacific crabapple, Malus fusca (also known as Pyrus fusca), which is native to western North America from Alaska to California. I still remember that particular "Aha!"

And here's what its fruit look like today, as summer rushes headlong into fall.

The apples are edible, but as you might expect, sour. According to Pojar & MacKinnon, "The small, clustered apples, though tart, are still an important food for virtually all coastal peoples. They are harvested in late summer and early fall. They are eaten fresh or stored under water, or under a mixture of water and oil, in cedarwood storage boxes. Because of their acidity, they do not require further preservation; they simply become softer and sweeter over time."


Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

We have a similar tree in the Russian Far East. Yes, its fruit are very sour, but with time, they get softer and sweeter. As kids, we love them! Its blooms are pretty.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, I totally understand your feelings there - moving from East Coast deciduous forests to West Coast coniferous forests was a huge change for me. I found that taking wildflower classes and forcing myself to learn wildflowers helped me in falling in love with the new flora a great deal. Good luck with your new plant friends!

Anonymous said...

One of the things that worries me is that I have very little knowledge of wildlife outside of Britain! Jumping in at the deep end, the way you have done, is probably the best way to learn..

The Pacific crabapple does also look similar the crabapples here.