|Shaw Island Wild Crabapple|
Photograph by C. Christensen.
10 October 2014 for E.L.H.L.
One hundred forty years ago wild crabapples were recorded growing on Shaw's Island, Washington Territory.
Government surveyors came through on their first working visit, in 1874, eagerly awaited by squatters keen to file homestead claims with the federal government. The field notes written by James Tilton Sheets contain tree specimens they saw, including the Crabapple. Records also stated––
"there were 12 settlers on land that contains sufficient good land for small farms, but the larger portion is only fit for sheep pasture."
Field Notes of the Exterior, Subdivision and Meander Lines
Quote from the handwritten daily diary of homesteader Bert Tift, of Maple, Shaw Island, WA.
My most helpful reference for researching data on Malus fusca: Northwest Trees. Arno, Stephen F. and Ramona P. Hammerly. Seattle, WA. Mountaineers. 1977. Pg. 185-6. The drawings done by Hammerly, are beautiful and most helpful for identification.
The native tree was described for science long before the government surveyors were through San Juan County in 1874. A quote below:
"Pacific crabapple, [Malus fusca] is another native fruit tree with thorn-like spurs on its twigs. (These spurs differ from true thorns since they bear buds.) It inhabits the damp, foggy coastal forest zone from south-central AK to northern CA and often borders beach meadows or swamps along the ocean front. It grows at low elevations in and west of the Cascades in moist pasture and stream side thickets with red alder, willows, bigleaf maple, and cascara. Pacific crabapple leaves are egg-shaped, 2 to 3 inches long, and often have shallow lobes or notches like those of domestic apple trees.
Pacific crabapple bears typical apple blossoms. The flowers in these clusters are waxy, and white or rose-colored, with a delightful fragrance. The apples themselves are oval, about 3/4 inch long and yellow with pink cheeks, hanging in small clusters from rather long stalks. Their flesh is thin, rather dry, and extremely sour, but makes good home-canned preserves and is also appreciated by grouse, bears, and probably other animals.
Pacific crabapple has been known to science since it was first described in 1792 by naturalist Archibald Menzies, who found it at Port Discovery, east of present-day Port Angeles, WA.* It often forms scrubby thickets along the coast, but develops a trunk 8 to 10 inches thick and 20 to 30 feet tall under less-exposed conditions. It grows slowly, reaching 100 to 150 years of age, and forming wood that is fine-grained, heavy, and hard. Northwest Indians used Pacific crabapple wood for the prongs of their seal spears and for wedges to split western red cedar."
*Menzies, educated as a surgeon, was part of Captain Vancouver's Voyage of Discovery. Vancouver was not the first discoverer to chart the west coast of N. America, but he was the first to explore certain parts of it. He was the first European to sail into Puget Sound.
According to the U of WA Herbarium this native tree has been recorded growing on the following islands in San Juan County: Willow, Ewing, LIttle Sucia, Turn, Deadman, Lopez, Yellow, San Juan, Orcas, and Crane. They missed listing Shaw Island, but we don't have our feelings hurt, we know it chooses to live with us.