Trees & Shrubs – The Hawthorn – Crataegus monogyna

Trees & ShrubsFlowering Trees & Shrubs – The Hawthorn

Crataegus (/krəˈtɡəs/), (from the Greek kratos strength and akis sharp, referring to the thorns of some species) commonly called hawthorn, thornapple, May-tree, whitethorn, or hawberry, is a large genus of shrubs and trees in the family Rosaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia and North America. The name “hawthorn” was originally applied to the species native to northern Europe, especially the common hawthorn C. monogyna, and the unmodified name is often so used in Britain and Ireland. The name is now also applied to the entire genus and to the related Asian genus Rhaphiolepis. The name haw, originally an Old English term for hedge, applies to the fruit.

Crataegus monogyna, known as common hawthorn or single-seeded hawthorn, is a species of hawthorn native to Britain, Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia. It has been introduced in many other parts of the world where it can be an invasive weed. It is listed by the RHS as a native species alongside Crataegus laevigata.

(Crataegus laevigata midland hawthorn: 8m, attractive berries.)

Other common names include may, mayblossom, maythorn, quickthorn, whitethorn, motherdie, and haw.

This species is one of several that have been referred to as Crataegus oxyacantha, a name that has been rejected by the botanical community as too ambiguous.

The horticulturalist Edward Step had this to say about Hawthorn in his 19th century book “Wayside and Woodland Trees” under the name “oxyacantha”

C. OXYACANTHA.—Common Hawthorn. This is, perhaps, the most ornamental species in cultivation, and certainly the commonest. The common wild species needs no description, the fragrant flowers varying in colour from pure white to pink, being produced in the richest profusion. Under cultivation, however, it has produced some very distinct and desirable forms, far superior to the parent, including amongst others those with double-white, pink, and scarlet flowers.

Hawthorn (Cratægus oxyacantha).

Though distributed as a wild tree throughout the length and breadth of London and the British Islands, we are all more familiar with the Hawthorn as planted material in the construction of hedges, and this is a use to which it has been put ever since land was plotted out and enclosed. For the word is Anglo-Saxon (hægthorn), and signifies hedge-thorn. The man in the street would say without hesitation that Hawthorn means the thorn that produces Haws, but the philologist would tell him that it is only a modern and erroneous practice to apply the name of the hedge to the fruit of the hedge-thorn. It is also Whitethorn, to make the distinction between its light-grey bark and that of the Blackthorn; and May because of the period when it chiefly attracts attention.

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The fruits of the Hawthorn – London Tree Surgeons

Where the Hawthorn is allowed its natural growth, it attains a height of forty feet, with a circumference between three and ten feet. Such a tree is represented in our photograph. On our commons, where in their youth the Hawthorns have to submit to much mutilation from browsing animals, their growth is spoiled; but though some of these never become more than bushes tangled up with Blackthorn into small thickets, there are others that form a distinct bole and a round head of branches from ten to twenty feet high, which in late May or (more frequently) early June look like solid masses of snow. The characteristic of the tree which makes it so valuable as fencing material is found in its numerous branches, supporting a network of twigs so dense that even a hand may not be pushed among them without incurring serious scratches. That this character is not confined to it as a hedge shrub is clearly shown by the winter photograph of the leafless tree.

The well-known lobed leaves are very variable both in size and shape, and the degree to which they are cut. They are a favourite food with horses and oxen, who would demolish the hedges that confine them to the fields but for the spines which protect the older branches at least. The white flowers are about three-quarters of an inch across, borne in numerous corymbs. The pink anthers give relief to the uniform whiteness of the petals. The flowers, though usually sweet-scented, occasionally give forth a very unpleasant odour. The familiar fruits, too, instead of their usual crimson, are yellow occasionally, as in the Holly. In favourable years these are so plentiful that they quite kill the effect of the dark-green leaves, and when such a tree is seen in the October sunshine, it appears to be glowing with fire to its centre. Beneath the ripe mealy flesh there is a hard bony core, in whose cells the seeds are protected from digestion when the fruit has been swallowed by a bird.

The Hawthorn is said to live from a century to two centuries, growing very slowly after it has reached a height of about fifteen feet. Its wood is both hard and tough, and the name of the genus has reference to that fact, being derived from the Greek kratos, strength.

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Hawthorn in summer – London Tree surgeons


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Hawthorn flowers or May – London Tree Surgeons

Flowers of Hawthorn—”May.”

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The trunk or bole of the Hawthorn – London Tree Surgeons

Bole of Hawthorn.

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Hawthorn in winter – London Tree Surgeons


A D Webster listed the following Crataegus species in his 19th century plant list as hardy ornamentals. The date represents the introduction to Britain where applicable.


CRATAEGUS AZAROLUS.—South Europe, 1640. This is a very vigorous-growing species, with a wide, spreading head of rather upright-growing branches. The flowers are showy and the fruit large and of a pleasing red colour.

C. AZAROLUS ARONIA (syn C. Aronia).—Aronia Thorn. South Europe, 1810. This tree attains to a height of 20 feet, has deeply lobed leaves that are wedge-shaped at the base, and slightly pubescent on the under sides. The flowers, which usually are at their best in June, are white and showy, and succeeded by large yellow fruit. Generally the Aronia Thorn forms a rather upright and branchy specimen of neat proportions, and when studded with its milk-white flowers may be included amongst the most distinct and ornamental of the family.

C. COCCINEA.—Scarlet-fruited Thorn. North America, 1683. If only for its lovely white flowers, with bright, pinky anthers, it is well worthy of a place even in a selection of ornamental flowering trees and shrubs. It is, however, rendered doubly valuable in that the cordate-ovate leaves turn of a warm brick colour in the autumn, while the fruit, and which is usually produced abundantly, is of the brightest red.

C. COCCINEA MACRANTHA.—North America, 1819. This bears some resemblance to the Cockspur Thorn, but has very long, curved spines—longer, perhaps, than those of any other species.

C. CORDATA is one of the latest flowering species, in which respect it is even more hardy than the well-known C. tanace-tifolia. It forms a small compact tree, of neat and regular outline, with dark green shining leaves, and berries about the same size as those of the common species, and deep red.

C. CRUS-GALLI.—Cockspur Thorn. North America, 1691. This has large and showy white flowers that are succeeded by deep red berries. It is readily distinguished by the long, curved spines with which the whole tree is beset. Of this species there are numerous worthy forms, including C. Crus-galli Carrierii, which opens at first white, and then turns a showy flesh colour; C. Crus-galli Layi, C. Crus-galli splendens, C. Crus-galli prunifolia, C. Crus-galli pyracanthifolia, and C. Crus-galli salicifolia, all forms of great beauty—whether for their foliage, or beautiful and usually plentifully-produced flowers.

C. DOUGLASII.—North America, 1830. This is peculiar in having dark purple or almost black fruit. It is of stout growth, often reaching to 20 feet in height, and belongs to the early-flowering section.

C. NIGRA (syn C. Celsiana).—A tree 20 feet high, with stout branches, and downy, spineless shoots. Leaves large, ovate-acute, deeply incised, glossy green above and downy beneath. Flowers large and fragrant, pure white, and produced in close heads in June. Fruit large, oval, downy, and yellow when fully ripe. A native of Sicily, and known under the names of C. incisa and C. Leeana. This species must not be confused with a variety of our common Thorn bearing a similar name.

C. OXYACANTHA.—Common Hawthorn. This is, perhaps, the most ornamental species in cultivation, and certainly the commonest. The common wild species needs no description, the fragrant flowers varying in colour from pure white to pink, being produced in the richest profusion. Under cultivation, however, it has produced some very distinct and desirable forms, far superior to the parent, including amongst others those with double-white, pink, and scarlet flowers.

C. OXYACANTHA PUNICEA flore-pleno (Paul’s double-scarlet Thorn), is one of, if not the handsomest variety, with large double flowers that are of the richest crimson. Other good flowering kinds include C. Oxyacantha praecox (Glastonbury Thorn); C. Oxyacantha Oliveriana; C. Oxyacantha punicea, with deep scarlet flowers; C. Oxyacantha rosea, rose-coloured and abundantly-produced flowers; C. Oxyacantha foliis aureis, with yellow fruit; C. Oxyacantha laciniata, cut leaves; C. Oxyacantha multiplex, double-white flowers; C. Oxyacantha foliis argenteis, having silvery-variegated leaves: C. Oxyacantha pendula, of semi-weeping habit; C. Oxyacantha stricta, with an upright and stiff habit of growth; C. Oxyacantha Leeana, a good form; and C. Oxyacantha leucocarpa.

C. PARVIFOLIA.—North America, 1704. This is a miniature Thorn, of slow growth, with leaves about an inch long, and solitary pure-white flowers of large size. The flowers open late in the season, and are succeeded by yellowish-green fruit.

C. PYRACANTHA.—Fiery Thorn. South Europe, 1629. This is a very distinct species, with lanceolate serrated leaves, and pinkish or nearly white flowers. The berries of this species are, however, the principal attraction, being orange-scarlet, and produced in dense clusters. C. Pyracantha crenulata and C. Pyracantha Lelandi are worthy varieties of the above, the latter especially being one of the most ornamental-berried shrubs in cultivation.

C. TANACETIFOLIA.—Tansy-leaved Thorn. Greece, 1789. This is a very late-flowering species, and remarkable for its Tansy-like foliage. It is of unusually free growth, and in almost any class of soil, and is undoubtedly, in so far at least as neatly divided leaves and wealth of fruit are concerned, one of the most distinct and desirable species of Thorn.

Other good species and varieties that may just be mentioned as being worthy of cultivation are C. apiifolia, C. Crus-galli horrida, C. orientalis, and C. tomentosum (syn C. punctata). To a lesser or greater extent, the various species and varieties of Thorn are of great value for the wealth and beauty of flowers they produce, but the above are, perhaps, the most desirable in that particular respect. They are all of free growth, and, except in waterlogged soils, thrive well and flower freely.




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