Friday, 16 June 2017

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a long-lived deciduous shrub or small tree from the rose (Rosaceae) family. It is also known as the faerie tree, May tree, May blossom, May tree, May thorn, thorn apple, white thorn, quick thorn, haw, hawberry, one seed hawthorn, motherdie or bread and cheese tree.

Image of hawthorn (Crataegus monnogyna) edible red fruit and distinctive leaves
Hawthorn (C. monogyna) Wildfowl and Wetland Trust: London Wetland Centre.

It is a common native tree in Europe and a pioneer species capable of colonising land that has been disturbed or damaged in some way. It is often found on scrubland, in woods and hedgerows. It is very easy to identify with its deeply lobed leaves, beautiful white blossom and deep red fruit.

Growing hawthorn

Hawthorn flowers in May with scented blossom that attracts a myriad of insects. The deep red fruit that follows are called haws and are pomes rather than berries. Haws ripen in the Autumn but might hang on the tree until the following Spring.

Gather the ripe haws and peel off the fleshy outer fruit to reveal the single large seed. Check the seed is viable by placing in water. Those that float are good to go. Those that sink are not! Place viable seed in a pot with regular potting compost and leave the pot outside over winter. Seeds need a period of cold before they germinate. They should germinate in the Spring but can take up to 18 months. Once the seedlings are big enough, pot them on and then out into their final growing spot.

Hawthorn can also be grown from cuttings by taking semi-ripe cuttings in the Autumn. Ensure to take more than required since there is a good chance they may not all root. If you don't want to grow your own or time is of the essence, hawthorn 'whips' may be purchased from nurseries in bulk at around 55p each.

Hawthorn is relatively fast growing and grows up to elevations of 500m. It thrives on a wide range of soils as long as they are not waterlogged. It grows to between 5-14 metres in height and does best in full sun.

Hawthorn is generally tough and disease resistent. However, it may be vulnerable to gall mite, aphid attack, fire blight and Erwinia amylovora, a bacterial disease. C. monogyna will hybridise with Britain's other native hawthorn, Midland hawthorn (C. laevigata) and it can be hard to tell them apart.

Other uses

Hawthorn is an important species for wildlife providing food for more than 150 insect species. The fruit is a popular food sources for birds and small mammals. The shrub is densely branched with many thorns and is popular as hedging deterring people and animals. If left untrimmed, it will grow into a stocky tree. It produces a fine grained hard wood used in wood turning, engraving, to make veneers, cabinets, tools and boat parts. It also makes good charcoal and firewood. Hawthorn is used in herbal medicine, primarily for conditions relating to the heart and circulation.

Raw edible parts

Hawthorn has raw edible flowers, flower buds, leaves, young shoots and fruit. The leaves and flowers can be made into a tea. The leaves have a nutty flavour and a good mouth feel. The red fruit are called haws and have large seeds and little flesh but are perfectly edible although not very sweet. The fruit are typically made into jellies, jams, ketchup and syrups. They can be used to make wine or flavour brandy. The leaves can be used as a China tea substitute and the roasted (sorry not raw!) seed for 'coffee'.

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