Thinking about spring’s glorious flowering fruit trees in the high desert often makes one wonder, how did some of these nonnative plants get here, and even more curious, how did they adapt to such an arid climate? The answer can be found way back in time, starting in the late 1500s.
Imported trees, including fruit trees, first arrived in New Mexico with Spanish colonists who brought more than 100 fruit tree cultivars as they travelled along the Camino Real. At the time, most colonists lived in the Rio Grande valley region, a major source for water. Unfortunately, the trees were overused for fuel and shelter, and most forests were denuded. It wasn’t until the American settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, bringing with them new, hardy varieties that spread roots along the Rio Grande once again, that these trees eventually established themselves in orchards and backyards throughout northern New Mexico.
One tree, the crabapple, in the genus Malus, from the rose family (Rosaceae), is a true spring show-off. Crabapple trees have blooms that range from pure white to deep magenta that cover its branches from the bottom of the tree to the top. Crabapples tend to inhabit relatively open areas that have lots of sun exposure and good air circulation. Interestingly, they do not have a particular soil preference, and although they prefer well-drained, moist, slightly acidic soils, they are highly adaptable to poor soils and can endure droughts and soil compaction. This makes them good candidates for the Southwest’s dry climate.