Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ – Bechtel Crab Apple
‘Plena’ is probably the most popular, and certainly one of the most beautiful, of all crab apples. Mostly grown for its stunning flower display, this small growing tree flowers late in the spring, helping to extend the blossom season. It also features attractive autumn foliage and is a lovely choice for small to medium landscapes, or where space is limited.
The double flowers are a soft, delicate pink, mildly violet-scented, and produced en masse in groups of three to five in late spring. Blooms open to beautiful rose-like flowers with prominent yellow stamens. A sparse quantity of small ornamental green crab apples are produced following flowering.
Spring and summer foliage is green, with distinct, coarsely serrated leaf margins. Autumn foliage is rich dark red, bronze and orange. Bark is greyish-brown and shiny, becoming scaly with age.
Growth habit is broad spreading with a rounded crown. Slow growing in the early years, moderate thereafter.
Requires full or part sun.
Height: Grafted to a 1.8 m standard. Width: 3-4 m
Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ is a natural sport of Malus ioensis and was first found circa 1840. The firm E. A. Bechtel’s Sons, of Staunton, Illinois was first to extensively introduce it to the nursery trade and general cultivation, beginning in 1888. As a result, the common name has become Bechtel crab apple, even though it did not actually originate with Bechtel.
Theo Bechtel recounted the discovery in correspondence (see below) with W. C. Egan 1898. This was published by Egan in the June 1913 issue of Garden Magazine.
“Sometime in the [eighteen] ’seventies, when my father, the late E. A. Bechtel, was conducting a little nursery four miles west of Staunton, Ill., we used to hear the most wonderful tales of a flowering tree, or clump of trees, situated some six or eight miles northeast of us in what was known as ‘Upper West Prairie’, but as the wild tales were too much to be believed, coming from a class of old settlers whom we knew to be given to exaggeration, we paid no attention to the matter until about ten years ago , when we made a trip during the blooming season and saw what a valuable thing had stood there, as near as we could find out from old settlers, about forty years. We at once made arrangements with Mr. Woodbridge, in whose pasture the original clump of trees were standing, to propagate and introduce them to the trade. As the trees were identical with the single-flowered wild crab growing around and in the same clump, we had to mark these during blossoming time, so as not to make any mistake in procuring buds or scions. The indications all go to show that it is an accidental sport from the single flowering crab.”