Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna and C. leavigata

Kingdom: Plantae Division: Magnoliophyta Class: Magnoliopsida Order: Rosales Family: Rosaceae Subfamily: Maloideae Genus: Crataegus

The name hawthorn is thought to mean ‘hedge thorn’ – haga or haw being the Old English for hedge or enclosure and miles of hedges (usually planted with hawthorn) have made a significant impact on the English landscape. Hedged fields have become one of the symbols of the English countryside.

Hawthorn is a common name for plants in two related genera in the subfamily Maloideae of the family Rosaceae:

  • Crataegus
  • Rhaphiolepis

Crataegus is a large genus of in the family Rosaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia and North America. The number of species in the genus depends on taxonomic interpretation, with numerous apomictic microspecies; some botanists recognise a thousand or more species, while others reduce the number to 200 or fewer. The name hawthorn was originally applied to the species native to northern Europe, especially the Common Hawthorn C. monogyna, formally known as C. oxyacantha [from the Greek kratos, meaning hardness (of the wood), oxcus (sharp), and akantha (a thorn)], the commoner of the two species presently distributed throughout Britain and Ireland.

Hawthorn is often known as ‘May’ because it traditionally flowered during that month and the blossom is used in May day decorations. However, it has recently been observed to flower much earlier in the year, in late March and early April but still reaches its zenith during the early May.Other names include Whitethorn, Mayblossom, Quick, Thorn, Haw, Halves, Hagthorn, Ladies’ Meat and Bread and Cheese Tree, In France L’épine noble, in German Hagedornand and in Ireland Sceach geal.


Deciduous tree dense leaved and thorny with short trunk. Found on all soil types. Protects seedlings of other broadleaved trees particularly oak from predation and hence aids natural regeneration. Natural distribution throughout British Isles and Europe to 500m. Growing to 5-15 m tall, characterized by their distinctive white blossom with strong scent and small pome fruit and thorny branches.

The bark is smooth grey in young individuals, developing shallow longitudinal fissures with narrow ridges in older trees. New shoots and leaves are reddish. The fruits are sometimes known as “haws”, from which the name derived, they begin to appear in July and August and ripen in October and November. The thorns grow from branches, and are typically 1-3 cm. long. 

Commonly used for stock proof hedging. The leaves emerge in March and April and grow spirally arranged on long shoots, and in clusters on spur shoots on the branches or twigs. The leaves themselves have lobed or serrate margins and are somewhat variable shape and often deeply cut. The leaves fall again in November. The flowers, found from May to June, are relatively small and numerous, known as the Mayflower. They also come in two colours, the more common white and less common is the red varient. The flowers are mostly fertilized by carrion insects, the suggestion of decomposition in the perfume attracts those insects that lay their eggs and hatch out their larvae in decaying animal matter.

Propagation: Seed is deeply dormant.Treat seed for approx 34 weeks – from collection to planting following spring. Mix with peat and sand, keep moist and allow to fluctuate outside naturally outside as would naturally occur but protect from predators. Natural germination typically takes 18 months. Produces viable seed most years. Approx 8000 germinable seeds per Kg. Also grown from cuttings. Grows rapidly for first 15 years or so. For hedges grow in seed beds for 2 years and then transplant into rows. Ready to plant into hedges at 4 years. Weeding improves growth significantly. Laying hedges to make them stockproof is an old country skill.

Hawthorn wood is white streaky or pale pinkish. Tough, extremely hard and heavy wood. Formerly the timber, when of sufficient size, was used for making small articles such as walking sticks, tool handles, engraving and all turnery. The root-wood was also used for making boxes and combs; the wood has a fine grain and takes a beautiful polish. It makes excellent fuel, making the hottest wood-fire known and used to be considered more desirable than Oak for oven-heating. Charcoal made from it was traditionally used to melt pig-iron has been said to melt pig-iron without the aid of a blast.

The dense cover provided by these hedges makes them ideal nesting sites for birds and shelter for small mammals. Hawthorns provide food and shelter for many species of birds and mammals, and the flowers are important for many nectar-feeding insects. Hawthorns are also used as food plants by the larvae of a large number of Lepidoptera species. According to the RSPB, hawthorns provide food for over 150 insect species. The hawthorn sawfly, shield bug and cockchafer all live in the tree. Hawthorn shield bugs inhabit cracks in the bark. Hawthorn berries are attractive to birds eaten by blackbirds and song thrushes amongst others and spread in this way.

Hawthorn is a plant with a long life and when cut back in coppicing it has the capability to throw up new shoots from the base, which is why it has prooved so valuable as a shrub for hedgeing. Hawthorn trees have been known to reach 250 years old. One, near Brecon Ash in Norfolk, is believed to be 700 years old. It could be that the plants growing in Roman times or even earlier are still alive today. The stock of the hawthorn is employed not only for grafting varieties of its own species, but also for several of the garden fruits closely allied to it, such as the medlar and pear.

Many species and hybrids are used as ornamental and street trees. Several cultivars of the Midland Hawthorn C. laevigata have been selected for their pink or red flowers. Hawthorns are among the trees most recommended for water-conservation landscapes.

Midland Hawthorn

The second species C. leavigata is sometimes referred to as Midland Hawthorn or Woodland Hawthorn is a species of Hawthorn native to western and central Europe, from Great Britain (where it is uncommon, and largely confined to the Midlands) and Spain east to the Czech Republic and Hungary. A deciduous shrub or tree with red flowers. The red flowered Hawthorn grown in gardens is derived from Midland Thorn. It is a mainly a woodland species, and can have single trunk. Height Max 10m (rarely to 12 m) tall, with a dense crown. Less common than C. monogyna, preferreing the heavy clay soils of the midlands and afew spots further South and East..The leaves emerge in April and then being deciduous fall again in November. The leaf shape tends to be toothed but with relatively little dissection. The leaves are 2-6 cm long and 2-5 cm broad, with 2-3 shallow, forward-pointing lobes on each side of the leaf.For the inexperianced it is not easy to seperate the two species in the field. The most diagnostic feature is the leaf shape, but there are considerable variations which can be determined by stripping the leaves from a single stem and arranging them in order of lobe size. It will be found that there is considerable overlap between the two species. The situation is further complicated by the fact that, when they occur together an appreciable amount of hybridization occurs which then leads to further variations and overlapping. They are only entirely distinct in their more typical forms. The flowers can be found from May to June and are are fewer and larger than C. monogyna and are produced in corymbs of 6-12, each flower with five white or pale pink petals and two or three styles as opposed to one in C.monogyna. The fruit is a dark red pome 6-10 mm diameter, slightly broader than long, containing 2 seeds though sometimes 3. The berries tend to form in August though they are not ripe until October.

In the past, Midland Hawthorn was widely but incorrectly known by the name Crataegus oxyacantha. This name has now been rejected as being of uncertain application. Linnaeus introduced the name C. oxyacantha for the single species of which he was aware and it gradually became used for both the Midland and the Common Hawthorn which were assumed to be the same species. In 1775 the Austrian botanist Jacquin separated the two hawthorns botanically, naming the Common Hawthorn C. monogyna whilst retaining C. oxyacantha for the Midland Hawthorn. In 1946 J. E. Dandy showed that Linnaeus had actually only observed and described the single-styled Common Hawthorn, and therefore this would be C. oxyacantha, although the Midland Hawthorn which was effectively a later discovery could use the next available name C. oxyacanthoides Thuill. To avoid confusion, the name C. oxyacantha was formally rejected as ambiguous, although with limited effect since C. oxyacantha continued to be widely used informally, and Common Hawthorn retained its name of C. monogyna. More recently, the Portuguese botanist Franco pointed out that the Midland Hawthorn was described botanically as a separate species as long ago as 1798 by the botanist Poiret, whose name Mespilus laevigata referred to this hawthorn. To reflect this, the botanical name of Midland Hawthorn has now become C. laevigata (Poir).

Propagation: Grown from seed – two or three seeds per fruit.

Folklore and MythsThe hawthorn is often referred to in verse by the phase “by oak, ash, and thorn” (the “thorn” referring to that of the hawthorn tree) and is used as a blessing during ritual, or to affirm a charge of power in spellcraft. In folklore the oak, ash, and thorn have all been associated with portals into the realm of the fairies. In this regard, the hawthorn in its connection with Cardea as the “hinge on the door” into the fairy realm became the guardian and protector of the entrances to the oak and ash portals, and unless the hawthorn allowed access to the doorways, the fairy realm remained unseen. Of old, it was the practice to plant hawthorn around oak and ash tree groves in order to protect them from damage by storms or grazing cattle.
In Irish folklore the hawthorn, is also sometimes referred to as the fairy bush, and it was considered bad luck to cut it in fear of offending the fairies that inhabit the tree. However, during the May Day celebrations the collecting of the sprigs and flowers was allowed for use in the festivities, after which they were placed in the home to banish all evil spirits and influences.

In Teutonic lore the hawthorn was a symbol of death and its wood was used for funeral pyres.

In ancient Greece, crowns of hawthorn blossoms were made for wedding couples, and the wedding party all carried burning torches of hawthorn.
In Rome the goddess Cardea, who presided over marriage and childbirth, was associated with the hawthorn. She was also known as the “White Goddess” and was the mistress of Janus who guarded all doorways and portals, as such Cardea became known as the “hinge of the door of the year”. Her primary symbol was the hawthorn branch and her festival was celebrated in May. In Italian iconography she is depicted carrying a bough of hawthorn as a protective emblem. This led to the practice of placing hawthorn leaves in the cradles of newborn children for protection.
The Hawthorn tree (Crataegus oxacantha) is one of the sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft and is associated with the spring celebrations. The main spring celebration is that of May Day which honors the sun god Belenus. His festival commenced on the first day the hawthorn blossoms opened, but today it is now celebrated on the 1st of May.
The Hawthorn is known by many folk names such as: May, Mayblossom, May Bush, Mayflower, Quick, Thorn, Whitethorn, Haw, Hazels, Huath, Gazels, Halves, Hagthorn, Ladies’ Meat, Bread and Cheese Tree and Tree of Chastity. Its deity associations are with: Cardea, Flora and Hyman. Its gender type is Masculine. Its planet ruler is Mars. Its associated element is Fire. It is used to attract the powers needed for: Health, Fertility, Chastity, Weddings, Protection and Death.

Astrologically people who are born during the month of April are stubborn but loving people and tend to be very beautiful in youth. They bring out the worst in their friends but not in a bad way, more as a way of helping them to root out bad habits and attitudes. They are supportive and protective of all they consider to be family. They can be tough to work with and have a single-minded attitude. They do not joke around but attend only to the business at hand, which makes them very shrewd business people. They are very dependable and stable, and won’t go back on their words.

Edible and Medicinal uses;

Hawthorn extract is sometimes used as aroma therapy and is known for its benefits on the circulatory system.

Young hawthorn leaves/leaf buds can be eaten which may be where its alternative name of ‘bread and cheese tree’ comes from (though the leaves are said to taste nutty rather than cheesy in flavour). The leaves have been used as an adulterant for tea, and an excellent liqueur brandy is made from its berries.In common with other members of the Prunus and Pyrus groups of the order Rosaceae, the hawthorn is a flavonoid-rich herb. Its bark contains the alkaloid Crataegin, which is isolated in grayish-white crystals that are bitter in taste and soluble in water.In Europe, scientific studies have shown that the hawthorn leaf expands the blood vessels and lets more oxygen-rich blood reach the heart muscles; increases the strength of the heartbeat and slightly increases its speed; and helps the heart by reducing resistance throughout the rest of the circulatory system. Hawthorn leaf is used for angina and weak heart. A 2001 report on a European study stated that patients using hawthorn extract reported improved exercise intolerance, fatigue, and shortness of breath.Hawthorn leaf only is useful for angina when it is used over a long period of time. It can sometimes prevent angina, but it cannot treat an angina attack.

The berries can be used to make jelly. Chinese usage in the digestive system suggests the use of Hawthorn to ease digestion of meat and greasy foods, and where there is pain, distension, and diarrhea.

Hawthorn Berries also have anti-oxidant properties and are a great way to get rid of free radicals that damage cells. The hawthorn has been used as a sedative, an anti-spasmodic and a diuretic, and is a natural regulator of arterial blood pressure. As a useful diuretic it was used in dropsy and in kidney troubles. In addition, Hawthorn has mild sedative properties which may be another reason it is so beneficial to those who are anxious, nervous and stressed.

Hawthorn berries have been used medicinally since the 19th century in western herbalism & has been recognized as a prime source for advantageous nutrition, since an Irish doctor began using it successfully to treat heart disease. It is renowned for its ability to support the normal activity of the heart and contains Amyddalin. Known as “valerian of the heart”, the hawthorn was most valued as a heart stimulant, it apparently has a direct, favorable effect on the heart itself, which is especially noticeable in cases of heart damage. Hawthorn has been shown to increase blood flow and improve the heart’s metabolism which allows it to function with less oxygen the result is an increase in the force of contraction. This is why using hawthorn has been shown to be beneficial in cases of congestive heart failure and various heart rhythm disturbances such as arrhythmia and heart palpitations and as such it was mainly used as a cardiac tonic in functional heart troubles. Studies have shown that hawthorn berries are excellent for both prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease when used on a regular basis. Hawthorn can actually be used for both high and low blood pressure, because of its strengthening action on the heart.

The actions of Hawthorn on the heart tissue make it suitable for use in conditions other than CHF as well. These may include; poor coronary blood flow, angina, and arrhythmias. For the peripheral vascular system, Hawthorn is employed for treatment of elevated blood lipids, lowers serum cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride levels, Buerger’s disease, and atherosclerosis.

Second, hawthorn has the ability to increase oxygen utilization by the heart, it increases enzyme metabolism in the heart muscle, it acts as a very mild dilator of the heart muscles especially the coronary vessels, improving the pumping of the heart by reducing peripheral resistance and thus lowering the blood pressure. This allows for protection of the arterial walls and it serves as a peripheral vasodilator dilating the blood vessels out in the arms, head and legs; thereby reducing the burden placed on the heart.

Hawthorn Berries have a long history of use as a heart tonic and have been used for centuries to aid circulation. The Greeks employed Hawthorn Berries primarily for heart disorders and the Chinese used Hawthorn Berries for both digestion and circulatory problems.

These medicinal benefits are thought to be due to a combination of the amines and the flavonoids. Its toxicity is low as well, becoming evident only in large doses. It therefore seems to be a relatively harmless heart tonic that apparently yields good results in many conditions.

Hawthorn’s action is not immediate, but taken over a period of months and develops very slowly.

Hawthorn also is taken in liquid form for insomnia and nervous conditions and is used as a gargle for sore throats.

Precautions; Hawthorn should only be used for diagnosed heart conditions. Women who are pregnant or breast feeding should take hawthorn only under the advice of a physician. Patients who are sensitive to other types of Rosaceae plants should not take hawthorn.Side Effects; Hawthorn rarely has side effects. In high doses, hawthorn can cause a severe drop in blood pressure, arrhythmias, and sedation.Interactions; Since hawthorn performs the same function as some nitrates, cardiac glycosides, central nervous system depressants, and medications for high blood pressure, lower doses of these medications might be needed. Consult a qualified practitioner for appropriate dosages.

Feeding and other inter-species relationships Associated with Crataegus:

Is associate ofis associate of Hadrobregmus denticollis – a wood boring beetle (Coleoptera: Anobiidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992is associate of Anthribus fasciatus – a fungus weevil (Coleoptera: Anthribidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992 [larvae feed on Coccids]is associate of Anthribus nebulosus – a fungus weevil (Coleoptera: Anthribidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992is associate of Anthonomus bituberculatus – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992is associate of Anthonomus chevrolati – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992is associate of Anthonomus pedicularius – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992is associate of Magdalis cerasi – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992is associate of imago Anthaxia nitidula – a jewel beetle (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992is associate of Opilo mollis – a chequered beetle (Coleoptera: Cleridae) Bullock, J.A., 1992 dead tree is associate of imago Acalles misellus – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 2002
Foodplant ofis foodplant of Polydrusus cervinus – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 1997is foodplant of Polydrusus pterygomalis – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 1997is foodplant of Phyllobius glaucus – a leaf weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 1997is foodplant of Phyllobius oblongus – Brown Leaf Weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 1997is foodplant of Phyllobius pyri – Common Leaf Weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 1997
Flowerflower is visited by imago Hoplocampa crataegi – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958flower is visited by imago Hoplocampa pectoralis – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958
Fruitdeveloping fruit may contain larva Hoplocampa crataegi – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958 [generally falls off when larva is mature]developing fruit may contain larva Hoplocampa pectoralis – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958 [generally falls off when larva is mature]fruit may contain larva Rhynchites aequatus – Apple Fruit Rhynchites (Coleoptera: Attelabidae) Morris, M.G., 1990 Bullock, J.A., 1992fruit may contain larva Rhynchites bacchus – a leafroller weevil (Coleoptera: Attelabidae) Morris, M.G., 1990
Leafleaf (midrib) may contain larva Rhynchites pauxillus – a leafroller weevil (Coleoptera: Attelabidae) Morris, M.G., 1990 Bullock, J.A., 1992leaf (petiole) may contain larva Rhynchites pauxillus – a leafroller weevil (Coleoptera: Attelabidae) Morris, M.G., 1990 Bullock, J.A., 1992leaf (upperside) is grazed by flattened larva Dineura stilata – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958 [leaving lower cuticle intact]leaf is galled by Eriophyes goniothorax (Eriophyidae) Stubbs, F.B. (Editor), 1986leaf is galled by Eriophyes goniothorax typicus – Hawthorn Leaf-roll Gall (Eriophyidae) Stubbs, F.B. (Editor), 1986leaf is galled by Eriophyes pyri crataegi – a gall mite (Eriophyidae) Stubbs, F.B. (Editor), 1986leaf is galled by aecia Gymnosporangium clavariiforme – a rust fungus (Uredinales: Pucciniaceae) Stubbs, F.B. (Editor), 1986leaf is grazed by larva Lochmaea crataegi – Hawthorn Leaf Beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992leaf is grazed by larva Orsodacne cerasi – a leaf beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992leaf is grazed by larva Orsodacne lineola – a leaf beetle (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992leaf is grazed by larva Arge ustulata – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Argiidae) Benson, R.B., 1951leaf is grazed by larva Trichiosoma tibiale – Hawthorn Sawfly (Hymenoptera: Cimbicidae) Benson, R.B., 1951leaf is grazed by larva Caliroa cerasi – Pear And Cherry Slug Sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1952 [skeletonises the leaf, leaving one cuticle intact]leaf is grazed by social larva Nematus lucidus – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958leaf is grazed by larva Priophorus pallipes – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958leaf is grazed by larva Priophorus pilicornis – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958leaf is grazed by larva Pristiphora crassicornis – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958leaf may have rolled larva Pamphilius sylvaticus – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Pamphiliidae) Benson, R.B., 1951leaf is grazed by web-dwelling communal larva Neurotoma saltuum – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Pamphiliidae) Benson, R.B., 1951
Ovaryovary may house ovum Hoplocampa crataegi – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958ovary may house ovum Hoplocampa pectoralis – a sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) Benson, R.B., 1958
Shootdecaying shoot may contain larva Rhynchites caeruleus – Apple Twig Cutter, Twig Cutting Weevil (Coleoptera: Attelabidae) Morris, M.G., 1990 Bullock, J.A., 1992shoot tip is galled by larva Dasineura crataegi – a gall midge (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae) Stubbs, F.B. (Editor), 1986
Stemstem is galled by aecia Gymnosporangium clavariiforme – a rust fungus (Uredinales: Pucciniaceae) Stubbs, F.B. (Editor), 1986
Cambiumcambium may contain larva Scolytus mali – Large Fruit Bark Beetle (Coleoptera: Scolytidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992twig (cambium) may contain larva Phytobia carbonaria – a leaf-mining fly (Diptera: Agromyzidae) Spencer, K.A., 1972
Woodmature tree wood of mature tree may contain larva Agrilus sinuatus – Hawthorn Jewel Beetle (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992wood may contain larva Anaglyptus mysticus – a longhorn beetle (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992wood may contain larva Tetrops praeusta – a longhorn beetle (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) Bullock, J.A., 1992
Dead Wooddead twig is foodplant of larva Magdalis ruficornis – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 2002dead twig? may contain Acalles misellus – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 2002dead or rotten wood is foodplant of Phloeophagus gracilis – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 2002dead wood is foodplant of Rhopalomesites tardyi – Holly Weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 2002small dead branch? may contain Acalles misellus – a weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 2002below cambium of dead twig is mined by larva Magdalis barbicornis – Pear Weevil (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) Morris, M.G., 2002 Bullock, J.A., 1992

Species composition of hedgerows and verges have an infinite variety where not only are no 2 the same, but they are different every 100 yards or sometimes every few yards.