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Hawthorne Tree

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.


The hawthorne tree's well being is affected by many diseases and pests. Many of them are also attackers of roses. This makes sense, since the hawthorne is a member of the rose family. There are also many unique pests that affect only the hawthorne.

Leaf Spot (Fabraea maculata)
This fungus produces small angular purple dots. Leaves may turn yellow and drop. Leaf Spot is sometimes called Black Spot and also attacks roses.

Leaf rust (Gymnosporangium globosum)
This fungus is characterized by bright orange, powdery pustules, usually on the underside of the leaves. Leaf rust also attacks roses.

Stem rust (Gymnosporangium clavipes)
This fungus attacks the leaves, twigs, and the fruit. Orange spots are produced on leaves, which soon fall. Fruit and twigs may be become deformed. Spores that infect the hawthorn are produced on cedars during long spring rains, but infection does not spread from hawthorn to hawthorn. The fungus is perennial in the cedars so that infected trees remain a threat to hawthorns year after year. Control as for leaf rust.

Powdery mildew (Podosphaera oxycanthae)

Fire blight (Erwinia amylovora) Leaves on branches suddenly shrivel and turn blackish-brown as though scorched by fire. Discoloration and death of the wood follows. The causal bacteria are carried by bees and inoculated into flowers at blossom time. The disease is most severe on pears but occurs also on apples, mountain ash, and Pyracantha.

Infected wood should be cut out well below the damaged part and burned or otherwise removed from the premises, making sure that pruning cuts are at least 10-12 inches below the visible symptoms. Pruning tools should be disinfested between cuts. Avoid excessive vigor, which can be caused by excessive nitrogen fertilizer.


Aphids (Aphis pomi, Rhopalosiphum fitchii, Amphorophora crataegi)
Several species of aphids frequently infest hawthorn. The rosy apple aphid, Dysaphis plantaginea, sometimes curls the leaves.

Cankerworms (Alsophila pometaria and Paleacrita vernata) Cankerworms feed on hawthorn foliage during the spring. They are also called measuring-worms or inch-worms and when abundant, may defoliate trees. In early spring, caterpillars hatch from the eggs laid on the trees in late fall or early spring. Older caterpillars are black or greenish with stripes. The male moths are gray with a wingspread of 1"; the female moths are wingless. Each species has only one generation a year. The abundance of cankerworms varies in cycles. The caterpillars can be controlled with one or more springtime applications of azadirachtin, carbaryl, Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki, or spinosad.

Cottony maple scale (Pulvinaria innumerabilis) This is a brown, oval, soft scale on the bark of the branches in winter, but in June the large egg masses are formed, and their wax covering resembles a tuft of cotton. The young crawl in July and some of them live for a time on the leaves, but return to the twigs to pass the winter.

Compounds that can be used against this pest are horticultural oil, imidacloprid, malathion and chlorpyrifos. The best means of control are a dormant horticultural oil spray applied in early spring or imidacloprid applied as a systemic to be taken up by the roots. Malathion or chlorpyrifos sprays in early July will control the young crawlers.

Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar)
The caterpillars feed on the leaves of hawthorn. When fully grown, the caterpillars are between 2 and 3 inches long, dark gray or brown with prominent light brown hairs. Some have a light narrow stripe along the back and all have two rows of hair bearing tubercles. From the head, the first five pairs are blue, and the remaining six pairs are brick red. They feed during May and June, and do most of their feeding at night.

Caterpillars pupate in cracks or crevices spinning a very small amount of silk. The moths emerge in about 2 weeks. The female is buff with narrow zigzag lines across the forewings. The wingspread is about 2", and the body is so heavy that the female cannot fly. The male is reddish-brown with variable light gray and dark brown markings and a wingspread of 1 to 1 1/2". The males fly freely. Eggs are laid on the bark of trees, on stones, or lumber. They are laid in masses of about 400 eggs and covered with buff hairs from the body of the females.

A fungus, Entomophaga maimaiga, gives natural control of larvae. Larvae killed by the fungus characteristically remain on the tree with their head hanging down. As these are the source of fungal spores to infect future gypsy moth caterpillars, do not destroy them. This fungus grows best in warm, humid weather. Bt (Bacillus thruingiensis) is another natural control used against the caterpillars. It is fatal to the caterpillars, but harmless to humans, pets and other animals.

Should chemical controls become necessary, sprays can be applied when caterpillars are young, about 1/4" long. Carbaryl, malathion and methoxychlor.

Hawthorn lace-bug (Corythucha cydoniae) This is a small lace-bug that lives on the undersides of the leaves. When needed, Soap-Shield, ultra fine horticultural oil or malathion, controls this pest. Most effective application is during the last week in May and just after eggs have hatched. Spray should be directed from the bottom of the plant upward to ensure thorough coverage of the lower leaf surfaces. Imidacloprid, applied as a systemic to be taken up by the roots, will also provide season-long control.

Hawthorn leaf-miner (Profenusa canadensis) This sawfly over-winters in the soil as pupae. Adults emerge just as hawthorns are beginning to leaf out. Eggs are laid singly in the upper epidermis where the petiole and leaf blade meet. After hatching, the larvae feed on inner leaf tissue, moving along the leaf margin toward the tip. There may be multiple larvae per leaf. The larvae are flattened with three pairs of true legs and are 3/8" long when mature. In mid-June they cut a hole through the lower epidermis and drop to the ground to pupate.

There are two wasp parasites that may provide control. If damage is severe, use imidacloprid, as a soil drench for season-long, systemic control. It should cause the least harm to the populations of beneficial wasps. Avoid planting Crataegus crus-galli, C. persimillis and C. erecta since they are the most susceptible species. Round-headed apple tree borer, Saperda candida. This insect is also a borer in hawthorn. Larvae of the round-headed apple tree borer tunnel deeply into the trunks of the trees from 4" below ground to 1-2" above ground. Borers mainly injure young trees, weakening or girdling them. Adults lay eggs from June to August. The adults are slender, long-horned beetles that are about 3/4" long and brown with two conspicuous longitudinal white stripes on the wing covers. The larvae may take up to 3 years to develop to maturity. Applications of chlorpyrifos or carbaryl to the trunk may kill adults before they lay eggs.

San Jose scale (Quadraspidiotus perniciosus)
Large infestations of the San Jose scale can cause branch and even shrub death.

Scurfy scale ( Chionaspis furfura) These whitish or light gray scales infest hawthorn and other trees and shrubs, reducing tree vigor.

Spotted tentiform leaf-miner (Phyllonorycter crataegella)
The adult of this blotch leaf-miner is a small moth whose wingspan is less than 1/4". The young larvae are flat with thoracic segments being wider than the abdominal segments. They cut cell walls and suck sap. As they grow, they do more damage by eating entire cells. Mines initially may be visible only from the underside of the leaf. Larvae spin silken threads between the lower and upper epidermis, which shrinks as it dries and causes the characteristic tent-like ridge. Pupation occurs in the mine. There may be more than one larva per mine and, depending on weather, there may be three generations per year.

Next year"s population will be reduced if leaves are destroyed in the fall. Healthy earthworm populations assist in reducing over-wintering populations of tentiform leaf-miners by dragging leaves underground, from where adults the next year cannot successfully emerge. When needed, acephate can be applied in early May and again in early June to control young leaf miner larvae. Imidacloprid, also controls this pest and will provide season-long systemic control if applied in early spring as a soil drench.

Thorn limb-borer (Saperda fayi) The larva of this beetle is a borer in the smaller branches and twigs of hawthorn, where it causes swellings about 1" long with four or five longitudinal scars. Infested twigs break off in the wind. The beetle is ½" long, brown, with two white crescent shaped spots near the middle of the wing covers and two smaller circular spots near the apex. The thorax has a white stripe on each side extending on the base of the wing covers. There is one annual generation and the beetles appear in June. Removing and destroying the infested twigs will provide some control.

Two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) This pest infests the undersides of the leaves, which become light yellow in color, and the plants have a generally unhealthy appearance.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses

Both ancient and modern herbalists have successfully used hawthorn for its food and health benefits. Modern science shows that hawthorne contains chemical components which are sedative, anti-spasmodic and diuretic. If you intend to use it for medicinal purposes, look for C. laevigata, C. monogyna, or C. pinnatifida, as these hybrids are known best for their medicinal uses. Read how to make a tincture or an infusion using hawthorne flowers or berries.

The hawthorne berry is one of the best cardiac tonics available, and is often used to treat high blood pressure.

Hawthorne berries are used to treat childhood diabetes. See Cautions.

Hawthorne flower tea is a safe diuretic.

Hawthorne berries, dried and crushed and made into a decoction, eases diarrhea and dysentery, kidney inflammations and disorders. See Cautions.

The young hawthorne leaves can be used as a safe, and non-nicotine tobacco substitute for those who desire to quite smoking. Enhance the flavor and help heal the throat by adding yarrow, mint, coltsfoot or mullein.

Chewing the hawthorne leaf has been known for centuries as a safe way to give nourishment, revive energy, and a feeling of well-being. That is why it can be used to treat those who have problems with apprehension, insomnia and despondency. Chewing hawthorne leaves takes away that "tummy grumble" when you"re hungry. That is why the hawthorne became known as the "bread and cheese" tree, giving as much sustenance as a plate of bread and cheese.

The hawthorne leaf-buds are good cooked (10 to 20 minutes) and have a similar taste to lima beans. They make a great addition to chilis and soups.

You can make jellies and fruit sauces from the berries, just make sure you strain the sauce. Hawthorne berries contain their own pectin so the sauce or jelly will thicken nicely.

Hawthorne flowers are edible and make an attractive addition to salads and other dishes.

Hawthorne seeds can be roasted and used in a manner similar to coffee.

Hawthorne is a very powerful herb and in most cases should be taken along with other herbs rather than by itself for medicinal purposes. When dealing with medical conditions, I recommend consultation with a medical professional rather than attempting self-medication.

Other Uses

Hawthorne wood is fine grained and works well for artist renditions with inlays and delicate carvings. The root wood is finer still and suitable for making boxes and combs.

Hawthorne wood is more prized than oak wood for wood fires, as it burns very hot. A hawthorne wood fire can produce fire that can melt pig iron.

Hawthorne hedgerow is still very evident in Britain and parts of Germany, used as a fence to keep cattle in and people out of private properties. Hedgerow makes a great security fence.

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