Everything you need to know about the hawthorn tree, from identification tips to typical characteristics; how to spot disease and the best way to maintain a hawthorn tree.
The hawthorn tree, also commonly known as the May tree on account of its blooming period taking place during the month of May, is a bushy deciduous tree, small in stature and renowned for its dark red autumn berries which follow sprays of pretty cream flowers.
The hawthorn, a UK native species, is a long living tree which can reach a ripe old age of 400 years. It is often used as hedging and as an ornamental shrub in town centres and around coastal locations, as well as being a popular installation in wildlife gardens on account of its appeal to as many as 300 insects which feast on its leaves. Hawthorn flowers deliver an enjoyable meal for dormice too, as well as providing ample nectar for pollinating insects such as bees.
|Known as||Hawthorn, common hawthorn, May|
|Latin name||Crataegus monogyna|
|Location||Europe, South West Asia, North Africa|
|Height||Up to 15 metres|
|Spread||4 – 8 metres|
|Appearance||A thorny, bushy, dense tree with brown-grey bark that is characteristically fissured and knotted. Twigs are brown, thin and thorny.|
|Leaves||Leaves are deeply lobed and glossy, around 6cm in length. Starting green in spring, they eventually turn yellow before falling in autumn.|
|Flowers||The highly scented hawthorn or May flower is usually white although can sometimes be pink. Flowers are made up of five petals and grow together in clusters.|
|Fruit||Once pollinated, the trees produce deep red fruits known as ‘haws’ which can be used to make wine, jellies and ketchups|
|Found in||Woodland, scrub, hedgerows, ornamental displays|
|Ideal soil||The hawthorn tree prefers moist but well-drained soil and will grow well in chalk, clay, sand or loam|
|Soil pH||Acid, alkaline, neutral|
|Aspect||North, south, east or west facing|
|Exposure||Full sun or partial shade – flowers and fruits appear best in full sun|
Hawthorn Trees and Wildlife
The hawthorn is a very important tree where wildlife is concerned. It will provide sustenance for in excess of 300 insects together with a variety of moth caterpillars including the hawthorn moth, orchard ermine, lappet, small eggar, fruitlet mining, light emerald and pear leaf blister amongst others.
Dormice enjoy the flowers, which also deliver a rich source of nectar for pollinating insects such as bees.
The fruits are plentiful in antioxidants which makes them a healthy meal for numerous birds, in particular the thrush, fieldfare and redwing, as well as smaller mammals. Birds also particularly enjoy the nesting opportunities offered by the dense prickly foliage which provides excellent protection from predators.
Hawthorn Tree Symbolism
The hawthorn or May tree is surrounded by much myth and lore and is respected as a ‘tree of enchantment’.
It is said that the essence of the hawthorn tree cleanses the heart of negativity, stimulating forgiveness and love. Its flowers are said to help prayers reach heaven.
Associated with May Day, the original May Poles were made of hawthorn. It is said that if you sit under a hawthorn on 1st May, you could well be whisked away forever to the realm of the faeries.
Back in medieval times, hawthorn trees were woven into hedgerows and used to protect villages from highwaymen.
The traditional saying, ‘Never cast a clout till May be out’ is long misunderstood, with many people believing it is suggesting you should not discard your winter clothing until the month of May is over. In actual fact, it refers to the hawthorn blossom, the May flower, so the true meaning is, until you see the hawthorn tree in bloom, keep those woollies handy!
The Importance of Hawthorn Trees
Hawthorn wood is very hard thanks to its fine graining. It is also very attractive, sporting creamy brown tones, making it popular amoungst cabinetmakers. It works well as a natural wood veneer and is widely used in the making of tool handles and boat parts. It’s also popular as firewood and charcoal as it can burn at high temperatures.
As well as the tree’s importance to wildlife, the hawthorn tree is a popular choice for hedging thanks to its slow growing habit and ease of care.
Hawthorn flowers and young leaves are often added to salads. The fruits are edible in raw form, but are known in some cases to cause a mild stomach upset. Instead they are more widely used to make ketchups, wines and jellies. If you fancy making your own hawthorn berry wine, here’s a recipe.
Caring for a Hawthorn Tree
The hawthorn tree does not call for a great deal of pruning, although if you are aiming to keep a hedge in a particular shape then you will need to undertake periodical trimming. It is vital not to over-prune a hawthorn tree as this can stunt its growth, and you must never trim this tree until it is well established and at least 1.5 metres in height. If you want to enhance the May blossom once the tree is mature, prune during the winter.
The hawthorn tree is prone to gall mites, aphids and caterpillars so be sure to check for infestations whilst undertaking your pruning. In particular, look out for fireblight, a bacterial disease that kills the shoots of various trees including ornamental shrubs such as the hawthorn tree. If your hawthorn tree appears as though it has been scorched by fire, is displaying wilting blossoms, cankers (sunken bark) and / or oozing white slime during late spring through to autumn, this could be fireblight and you will need to have the affected areas pruned out immediately.
If you are in any way unsure as to the best way to care for your hawthorn tree then you should not hesitate in seeking professional assistance from a qualified tree surgeon. They have the experience and expertise to prune and trim trees in just the right way and at just the right time. They will also know precisely how to identify and deal with any common diseases or pests.
If you have a hawthorn tree on your land that needs professional care, why not talk to Tree Works? As fully qualified and highly experienced tree surgeons, we can offer comprehensive knowledge and skill across all aspects of hawthorn tree care, including a professional topiary service. For a free, no-obligation quotation, give us a call on 07781 416 354 or get in touch here.