|Leaf Shape||Alternately arranged with toothed or lobed ends|
|Mature Height||Up to 40 feet|
|Best Habitat||Moist, well-drained soil and full sunlight
|Output||Flowers and berry-like fruit|
|Uses||Medicine, sculptures and tobacco substitute|
You can garner a lot from the Hawthorn tree's name. The deciduous tree's moniker translates to "thorny hedge," and fittingly, many believe the Crown of Thorns forced upon Jesus during his Crucifixion was made from Hawthorn branches. Despite the bloody Biblical reference, the Hawthorn is prized among landscapers for its stunning flowers, attractive berries and exceptional longevity.
Appearance of the Tree
Hawthorn trees are part of the genus Crataegus, which means "hardness" in Latin. While relatively short compared to other trees, the Hawthorn is irrefutably hardy. The tree can live up to 400 years and does well in a variety of soil types.
In addition to its durability, the tree is also coveted by homeowners because it doesn't get much taller than 30 feet, making it easier to prune and maintain. Due to its size and shape, the Hawthorn is typically employed as a hedge or natural border planted near driveways, sidewalks and property lines.
Among the Hawthorn's other distinguishable traits are:
- Leaves: The tree's leaves are alternately arranged with toothed or lobed ends. Deep veins run throughout the green leaves.
- Thorns: Most species of the tree have long, sharp thorns, ranging from one to five inches in length. The straight thorns are similar to those found on rose bushes.
- Flowers: The Hawthorn has the ability to flower twice a year and when it does the blooms feature five white petals set around skinny stamens with bright pink tips. The scent of the Hawthorn flower is pleasing to humans and insects; the latter crawls into the flower to fertilize it.
- Fruit: From the flowers come the fruit. The back of each Hawthorn flower features a seed, which grows into a small green berry. By fall the berry ripens into a shiny, red orb and hangs with other berries from the tree in clusters.
The bark of the Hawthorn is also recognizable especially as it ages. In most cases, the smooth grey bark gives way to a darker shade of brown and shallow furrows and fissures with narrow ridges appear.
Hawthorn Tree Types
There are more than 200 different species of Hawthorn trees in the world; however, not all of them are suitable for landscaping purposes. If you are looking to embellish your property with the Hawthorn's pretty blooms and colorful fruit, consider the following types:
- English Hawthorn: This type of Hawthorn tree rarely grows beyond 20 feet tall and is typically used as a hedge or border. Unlike taller types of Hawthorns, the English variety is shorter and easier to prune regularly and does very well in cool climates. The tree's rounded canopy stretches far and wide and the leaves turn from green to greenish-yellow in the fall.
- Cockspur Hawthorn: The Cockspur Hawthorn tree is known for its stunning fall foliage. The tree sports shiny dark green leaves in the summer and deep gold and brilliant red-colored leaves in the fall. The Cockspur Hawthorn is among the shortest of the species, barely getting above 15 feet tall.
- Washington Hawthorn: This type of Hawthorn is prized for its ever-changing color. The tree's leaves feature a purplish-red color in the spring, then turn emerald green in the summer, and finally, in the fall, the foliage explodes into a rainbow of orange, purple and red.
- Downy Hawthorn: These trees are also native to the United States and are usually the first to bloom in the spring, well before its cousins. The tree is also the tallest of the species growing to nearly 40 feet with a canopy of roughly the same width. The tree's shape is easy to spot as it is dense, wide, green and thick.
Where the Hawthorn Grows
Hawthorn trees grow in several parts of the world including:
- The Middle East
- North America
- The Mediterranean
The tree thrives in temperate conditions and in most soils, including alkaline. The Hawthorn also prospers in full or partial sun, though it prefers growing environments that don't experience extreme conditions.
Hawthorn trees are especially popular in the world of herbal medicine. However, as much as the tree is beloved, its reception comes with a few caveats. While Hawthorn leaves and berries have been known to alleviate stomach problems, high blood pressure and kidney ailments, they should not be consumed or combined with other herbs without first consulting with a doctor. In fact, it's never a good idea to self medicate with any part of the Hawthorn tree without your physician's approval.
Other popular uses for the tree include:
- Berries: The tree's berries can be made into sauces, jams and jellies. In addition, the berries can be eaten raw, though their flavor and texture is enhanced when they are added to a recipe rather than being consumed by themselves.
- Flowers: Hawthorne flowers are safe to eat and are often added to salads and desserts as edible decorative toppings. The flowers can also be steeped in hot water to make a soothing beverage.
- Leaves: Tender Hawthorne leaves are often used as a non-nicotine substitute for tobacco. Chewing young leaves can also help alleviate hunger pangs. The tree's leaves are also commonly used as garnish at upscale restaurants.
- Wood: The fine grain wood is a top choice for sculptors when designing intricate masterpieces. The roots of the tree are also harvested and used to make jewelry boxes, fashion accessories and combs.
In parts of Germany, the Hawthorn tree is often chopped down and used to make security fences to keep livestock contained.
The Hawthorn tree has a storied past that gave birth to a litany of interesting facts, including:
- The Pilgrims reportedly named the Mayflower after the Hawthorn whose nickname is "Mayflower."
- In Britain, the tree is associated with fairies.
- Centuries ago Hawthorn flowers were not allowed in Asian homes, as the blooms were associated with death.
- In the 1700s, Hawthorn flowers were used as garlands and set outside English homes during May Day celebrations.
- In the early Middle Ages, the fruit from the Hawthorn tree was used to make wine which was consumed by people suffering from high blood pressure.
As for the tree's strong wood, it was used centuries ago to make tool handles and other small household items.
The Hawthorn tree has many fans, but it's not adored by all. There are many serious diseases that aggressively attack the Hawthorn tree. Among the most prevalent are:
- Leaf Spot: The fungal disease presents itself as purple spots that dot the leaves. In more serious cases, the leaves may turn yellow and drop prematurely.
- Stem Rust: This fungus attacks the leaves, twigs, and the fruit. Orange spots form and the leaves fall off prior to autumn. In severe cases, disease can spread to the fruit and twigs, and they can be permanently deformed.
- Fire Blight: Symptoms of this fungal disease include shriveled leaves that look as though they have been scorched by fire. The leaves turn dark brown or black and the discoloration can spread to the trunk.
In addition to these diseases, Hawthorns are also preyed upon by a number of pests, including aphids, cankerworms and gypsy moths.
Since Hawthorns are such hardy trees they can survive in a variety of growing environments. However, if you are looking to keep your tree healthy and strong for the foreseeable future, it's a good idea to keep the following tips in mind:
- Hawthorns can survive in partial sun, though they prefer full sun. Consider planting your tree away from taller species that could block the sun's rays.
- New Hawthorns should be watered regularly and the soil should be well drained.
- Fertilize the Hawthorn in the spring with a water-soluble mixture.
- Hawthorns should be pruned in the spring before it sprouts new leaves.
- In the fall, remove any dead or damaged branches and get rid of any fallen leaves that may be covering the tree's roots.
Finally, be mindful of the tree's long, sharp thorns. When pruning the tree, it's a good idea to wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt. Caring for a Hawthorn is similar to maintaining a thorny rose bush; taking a few basic precautions can go a long way to ensuring your safety.