In the tiny front yard of our little inner-city plot in Minneapolis live two crabapple trees. My wife and I bought them from the same nursery and planted them on the same day fourteen years ago. But if you were enjoying a late summer stroll down our street today and noticed them, you would wonder why these two trees look so different. The tree just off the north corner of the house is the picture of a fine-looking young crab. It stands about fifteen feet high with branches spreading in pleasing proportion in all directions. It is just beginning to develop the familiar gnarled beauty of a mature crab tree. As summer gives way to autumn, almost every branch is hanging heavy with its beautiful, deep red fruit — so much fruit, in fact, that most of its leaves have dropped just to make room.
But the tree just off the south corner is much different. At first you might not think it a crab tree at all. It is nearly thirty feet tall and oddly slender. Its branches are full of leaves, and though it’s producing fruit in similar quantity to its north-side sister, the berries are growing almost entirely in the top third of the tree.
So why are these two crab trees so different?