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The native hawthorn tree is instantly recognizable to many.
When the flowers are in full bloom and bright red fruits dot the branches of the tree, the hawthorn is a spectacle to behold. A magical tree for many, the Crataegus holds within its boughs fairies and folklore.
You may have been scolded as a child for bringing a hawthorn flower into the home, as they have long been a symbol of illness and misfortune. However, this versatile tree is well-known and well-loved for its wide range of uses and its magnificent beauty in spring.
Hawthorn trees are not only a friend of humans but also many varieties of birds and insects. In fact, the trees are commonly planted in botanical gardens because of how well they attract pollinator insects like butterflies. Not all insects are great for plants though. Spider mites, for instance, will do more harm than good by feeding off the sap of the trees. Hawthorns are susceptible to diseases like fireblight, a bacterial disease that could prove fatal for the tree if not treated right away.
Nevertheless, thorns and disease are some of the few downsides of growing a hawthorn. These adaptable plants are a joy to look at and a delight for jam-lovers (read on to find out what we're talking about)!
There's probably something that'll surprise you in this list of facts about hawthorns.
Hawthorn trees were the original hedgerow trees. They're popular for growing hedges and are also on display in many wildlife gardens.
One of the interpretations of the old saying 'Cast ne’er a clout ere May is out' could be that it's a reference to the display of hawthorn blossoms in late April to early May.
Hawthorn trees have been appreciated for their decorative properties for a long time.
Before the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, the pink-white flowers would bloom around the first of May but now the flowers go into full bloom only into the second week of the month.
Hawthorn timber is used in turnery, engraving, and for making small wood items. The tree is hardwood and resistant to rot.
Some species of hawthorns are also made into bonsai trees.
The tree can burn for a long time at high temperatures and has, therefore, been a good choice for firewood.
Almost every part of the plant can be utilized for medicinal or consumption purposes. The hawthorn flowers, leaves, flower buds, and fruit are all edible and can be used to make teas, jams, and salads.
Hawthorn trees have been regarded as a symbol of love, hope, and protection.
The ancient Greeks were said to have carried the branches during wedding processions and used them to decorate the altar of Hymenaios, the god of marriage.
It was once presumed that the crown of thorns worn on Jesus's head was from the hawthorn.
In Great Britain, it is believed that the hawthorn blossom brings illness and death, and bringing them into the house is a bad omen.
During the time of the Great Plague, it was said that the hawthorn blossom smelt like death. Indeed, the white flowers don't exactly smell great and that's because of a chemical called triethylamine that's known to smell like decomposition.
'Queen of the May' and 'faerie tree' are some nicknames that have been given to the hawthorn tree.
In Gaelic lore, it is believed that the sidhe, (fairies) live underground and under trees like hawthorns as guardians. It was, therefore, bad luck to cut down or disturb the tree in any way.
The blackthorn is usually depicted in fairy tales as an ill omen. It is usually associated with death and war.
During battles, blackthorn was used in spells of protection. The shillelagh, a club-like weapon, is made out of a blackthorn stick.
It's not easy to tell apart hawthorn species right off the bat, but small differences here and there could give you a clue.
Hawthorn trees or shrubs are small, standing at 15-50 ft (5-15 m) tall.
As the name suggests, the trees are thorny. The branches and also the main trunk of the hawthorn are covered with small, sharp-tipped thorns that generally can measure 1⁄2–1 in (1-3 cm).
Some thorns on hawthorn trees have been known to measure up to 4 in (10 cm).
The hawthorn comes in one-seed or two-seed varieties.
To distinguish the common hawthorn, Crategus monogyna, from its relative the C.oxycantha, look at the seeds inside the fruits. The Crategus monogyna has only one seed while the oxycantha has two. Both are native hawthorns.
The bark of the hawthorn tree is smooth and grey in the case of younger trees.
More mature hawthorns take on a darker brown shade and become rough and covered with ridges like most trees.
The hawthorn tree's flowers are flat and grow in dense clusters called corymbs.
In terms of appearance, the creamy-white blossoms look similar to apple flowers.
Hawthorn flowers have five petals and a single pistil.
The flowers bloom around May to June (which is why the tree is also called maythorn), completely covering the thorny branches of the tree.
They let out a musky scent that is so intense, it's been described as spicy.
In Pagan tradition, the scent of hawthorn flowers has been associated with fertility.
For the Romans and the Greeks, the flowers symbolized marriage and good fortune, respectively.
The color of the flowers varies depending on the hawthorn species. The Crataegus crus-Galli, or cockspur hawthorn, produces pink flowers in all kinds of shades. The most common color, though, is white.
The leaves of hawthorn trees are lobed which means that the margins of the leaves have distinct protrusions unlike, say, magnolia leaves.
The tips of hawthorn leaves have 'tooth'-like serrations.
The upper side of the leaves is a dark green color while the underside is a pale green.
The wedge-shaped leaves usually measure about 1-3 in (2.5-7.5 cm).
Hawthorn trees shed their leaves before winter begins, even in areas with a relatively warm climate.
It's amazing how many different uses there are for every part of the hawthorn. Read on to find out what you can make with the tarty red fruits.
The trees bear small, edible pome fruits. Pome fruits are fleshy accessory fruits of the Rosaceae family. Other examples of pome fruit include apples and pears.
The fruits of hawthorn trees are typically referred to as berries because of their size and the fact that they grow in clusters.
The fruits have creamy yellow, fresh flesh covered with thick red skin.
The clusters grow best in spots where the sun can get to them, so watch out for those when you're berry-hunting.
They are usually 0.5-1 in (1.2-2.5 cm) in diameter.
Hawthorn fruits are edible but it may not be the best idea to pop them straight into your mouth, because not everybody appreciates the tanginess of the fruit.
If you get them at the right time, the berries will be sweet and mild, perfect for snacking. The young leaves were often eaten as a snack in the past.
Hawthorn fruits are usually made into jellies, jams, syrup, and pie filling.
You can even make tea with hawthorn fruits. The tea is available in shops, but you can make your own with dry berries, flowers, flower buds, and leaves.
Hawthorn tea doesn't taste like fruit tea, as you would expect it to, but has the flavor of a medicinal brew.
Hawthorn fruits are a rich source of antioxidants.
The fruits contain polyphenols, which are associated with health benefits like lower risk of heart problems, infections, and asthma.
The berries could also have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
The medicinal uses of hawthorn fruits are still being researched but the outcome looks very promising.
Be very careful not to eat the seeds of the hawthorn fruits. Like apple seeds, they contain cyanide and definitely should not be consumed.
Hawthorn fruits can also be used to make homemade wine. With some sugar, water, yeast, and oranges, you could make a great hawthorn berry wine at home.
The fruits are important winter food for a lot of birds. You may see thrushes, bullfinches, and blue jays flocking around the trees to get to the sweet berries.
The people of Manitoulin Island in Ontario are often called 'haweaters' because early European settlers who arrived on the island consumed the fruit on the regular. It was an important source of vitamin C, essential in fighting scurvy.
In Mexico, the fruits of the Crataegus Mexicana (Mexican hawthorn) are known as tejocotes, a Nahuatl word meaning 'stone fruit'. The trees can be found in the mountainous regions of Mexico and Guatemala.
The fruits are an important ingredient of rielitos, a Mexican candy made by mixing the berry paste with sugar and chili powder.
The Crataegus pinnatifida (Chinese hawthorn) produces bright red fruits that are used to make the popular haw flakes snack. This tangy snack comes in small pink discs and is sometimes used as a digestive aid.
The common hawthorn variety is not the only one out there. Here's a list of the many species of hawthorns and their unique features.
The Crataegus monogyna (common hawthorn) is also known as the one-seed/single-seed hawthorn. It is a flowering, shrub-like tree belonging to the rose family.
The trees are typically 15-45 ft (5-14 m) tall with grayish bark.
Other names for the tree are the hedgerow thorn, quickthorn, and maythorn.
The common hawthorn grows best when planted in full sun or partial shade.
The tree requires moist, well-drained soil.
The flowers of the tree are creamy-white with pink anthers.
The fruit of the common hawthorn measures about 0.4 in (1 cm).
The Washington hawthorn is named so because it was grown in a Washington nursery in the late eighteenth century.
The tree is small, multi-stemmed, and also has white flowers and bright red fruits.
The mature Washington hawthorn has a flaky dark green or brown bark with an orange inner bark. Thorns cover the surface of the bark.
The shrub-like size and shape of the Washington hawthorn make it possible to prune the tree into a hedge.
The tree does quite well in urban conditions and is one of the most versatile among Hawthorn species.
The Washington hawthorn is also a beautiful ornamental tree. When the white flowers bloom in mid to late spring, the trees become a fantastic display of white hawthorn blooms and red berries.
The Crataegus laevigata, or English hawthorn, is a small tree or large flowering shrub.
The small tree has dense, red berry clusters and glossy leaves with three to five lobes.
The English hawthorn is also called the smooth hawthorn, Midland hawthorn, and quickset hawthorn.
The Crataegus crus-Galli, otherwise known as cockspur hawthorn, is generally shaped like a wide-rounded, umbrella.
It has smooth, gray bark and like the Washington hawthorn, has white flowers that are beautiful, but smell quite bad.
One way you can distinguish between the cockspur and other species is through the leaves. Unlike other hawthorns, the cockspur hawthorn's leaves are unlobed. The leaves are glossy and turn red-purple during the fall.
Another prominent feature of the cockspur hawthorn is its large horns, measuring up to 4 in (10 cm). The thornless cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli var. inermis), as you might tell from the name, does not have thorns. They're ideal for hedges or for growing in your backyard.
The fruits of the Chinese hawthorn are called shan zha and are used to make medicinal concoctions.
The black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) is easily identifiable by its dark purple, almost black fruits. It is a compact, thorny shrub and makes a good hedge plant.
Mayhaw trees, a species of hawthorn trees, stand at about 12-36 ft (4-11 m). The two most popular species of mayhaw are Crataegus aestivalis and Crataegus opaca.
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