Hawthorne (Crataegus) is deciduous and a member of the rose family. The common name for hawthorne comes from haw, which is an old English word for "hedge." The tree's name simply means "thorny hedge." After the British General Enclosures Act of 1845 hawthorn was used extensively as hedgerow because of its thorny nature and quick growth, angering peasants who no longer could enter the lands they previously roamed at will. Its Latin name, Crataegus, means "hardness," referring to the quality of the wood.
The hawthorne is native to the Mediterranean region including north Africa and all of Europe and central Asia, and now grows in many areas of North America. It is a tree that rapidly changes due to hybridizing, which causes it to appear in more than a thousand different species. Most of these are very difficult to tell apart and even professional foresters place them into a group and do not try to determine the exact species. Some of the more interesting, useful and common hawthorns are reflected below. Prior to planting a hawthorne in your area, check the species and note your hardiness zone before purchasing. Although hawthorne is hardy, the hardiness range is diverse depending on the species.
Crateaegus will grow in most soils, including alkaline, in sun or partial shade. Hawthorne does not have a large root system and doesn't drain the soil of nutrients. They can live for over 400 years and have the capacity to flower twice a year, though this obviously depends on weather conditions. The alternate, simple, strongly veined, toothed leaves have deep or shallow lobes and vary radically from species to species. Most species of the hawthorne have very prominent, long, straight, sharp thorns, ranging from 1 to 5 inches in length. There are only a few species without thorns.
The flowers of the hawthorne are interspersed with the newly opened leaves and look like tiny white balls. When they open they have five snow-white petals set around slender stamens with bright pink heads. When in bloom, the hawthorne is weighted down and has a rich scent that permeates. Hawthorne blossoms contain both male and female parts and are fertilized by insects crawling over them.
On the back of each hawthorne flower are five green, star-like sepals. Below this the stalk looks slightly swollen, for it contains the seed, which by summer grows into a small green berry. By fall they have grown and ripened into a shiny red berry, hanging on long-stalked bunches. Birds, mice and other creatures love to eat them and help propagation by dropping the seeds wherever they go.
The C. laevigata flowers and fruits better in an open, sunny position. C. laevigata is also known as English Hawthorn. It has moderate growth to 18-25 ft with a 15-20 ft spread. It comes in varieties called: "Paul's Scarlet", clusters of double rose to red flowers; "Double White", "Double Pink" (Doubles set little fruit so this may not the one you want to grow if you are looking for large berries.); or "Crimson Cloud" ("Superba") has bright red single flowers with white centers and bright red fruit.
The C. monogyna is the classic hawthorn of English countryside for hedges and boundary plantings. It is available as "Stricta". It has a narrow growth habit of 30 ft tall and 8 ft wide. Plant 5 ft apart for dense narrow screen or barrier. Flowers are white and it has small red fruit clusters.
The C. pinnatifida is native to northeastern Asia. It grows 20 ft high, 10-12 ft wide. This one is tender and is best grown as a houseplant or in a warm climate.
The C. oxycantha is a small thorny tree or shrub that produces brilliant red clusters of berries. It can grow up to 30 ft high and is usually not broader than high.
Use the leaves, flowers and berries for medicinal and culinary purposes. The berries are collected when ripe and used raw or cooked, or dried whole for use in decoctions, liquid extracts, and tinctures. Harvest the leaf-buds in the early spring for cooking or as a substitute for smoking tobacco. Harvest the flowers in the spring and the berries after they ripen in the fall.