Characteristics of Common Hawthorn Tree (Crataegus monogyna) in the Wild

Crataegus monogyna
Common Hawthorn or Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a species of flowering tree in the family Rosaceae, native to Europe, northwest Africa, and Western Asia, and has now been introduced elsewhere around the world.

Crataegus monogyna is one of the species most commonly used as a traditional herbal “hawthorn”. The plant parts used are usually the stalks, leaves, and flowers, sometimes the fruit. Hawthorn has been studied as an evidence-based drug for treating cardiac insufficiency.

Apart from being used as an herb, hawthorn is commonly grown as a living hedge, especially in agricultural areas. Its spines and tight branches make it resistant to disturbance from wild animals as well as strong winds.

There are now many hawthorn hybrids cultivated as ornamental trees, some of which are used as bonsai due to their low growth. The most widely used hybrids include Crataegus monogyna × Crataegus laevigata, of which some cultivars are known as ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ which are especially popular for their dark pink double flowers.

HAWTHORN TREE IN BELIEFS AND MYTH

In pre-modern Europe, the hawthorn tree was used as a symbol of hope, and also as an amulet against witchcraft and vampires. Hawthorn is believed by some to have the ability to block disturbing supernatural forces and is also considered sacred because of the connection between the hawthorn bush and the crown of thorns that, according to the New Testament, was placed on Jesus.

As protection against witchcraft, hawthorn is sometimes placed in cribs, or around houses and doors.

The Greeks reportedly placed pieces of hawthorn in windows to prevent witches from entering the house.

Bohemian locals place hawthorn over cowshed doors for the same purpose. Hawthorn is also sometimes placed in the coffin of a deceased person, on a corpse, or in his stockings.

In Bosnia, women sometimes put a piece of hawthorn twig behind the head covering of a recently deceased person and then throw it away on the way home. If the person who died was a vampire, he would focus on the hawthorn pieces rather than following the woman home.

In the Southern Slavs, pegs made of hawthorn or blackthorn wood were considered effective for piercing vampires.

An ancient hawthorn tree, and supposedly the oldest of all species in France, can be found beside the church at Saint Mars sur la Futaie, in Mayenne. This tree is 9 meters high and has a trunk diameter of 2.65 meters (measured in 2009). The inscription on the plaque below reads “This Hawthorn is probably the oldest tree in France. Its origins date back to St Julien (3rd century)”, but such a claim is impossible to verify.

While the famous hawthorn tree in England is Glastonbury or Holy Thorn which according to legend, grew from the stick of Joseph of Arimathea after he stuck it into the ground while visiting Glastonbury in the first century AD. The tree is considered important because it flowers twice a year. Unfortunately, the original tree at Glastonbury Abbey was felled in the 1640s during the English Civil War and has been identified as the ‘Biflora’ cultivar. Then a replacement tree was planted by the local council in 1951, but it was cut down by an unknown person in 2010.

The oldest known living hawthorn species lives in East Anglia, and possibly in England, known as The Hethel Old Thorn. Grows up in the churchyard in the small village of Hethel, south of Norwich, in Norfolk, England. The tree is thought to be over 700 years old, or at least planted in the 13th century.

 

Characteristics of Common Hawthorn Leaf

Crataegus monogyna Leaf
Source: inaturalist.org/nicolasavril

The leaves are 2-4 cm long, inverted ovate, and strongly lobed, sometimes almost to the midrib. The upper surface of the leaves is dark green and pale green below.

 

Characteristics of Common Hawthorn Flower

Crataegus monogyna Flower
Source: inaturalist.org/katiemac543

The hawthorn flowers appear in late spring (May to June in their native area), each flower is about 10 mm in diameter, and has five white petals, red stamens, and is fragrant.

The petals are also edible, as are the leaves, which when picked in the spring when young are tender enough to use in salads.

The petals are known to have been used in medieval English recipes as described in ‘The Forme of Cury’ by Master Chief-Cook King Richard II, from 1390.

 

Characteristics of Common Hawthorn Fruit

Crataegus monogyna Fruit
Source: inaturalist.org/mahdiraeisi

Hawthorn fruit is oval, dark red, about 10 mm in diameter, and usually contains one seed. The hawthorn fruit called “haw” is essential for winter wildlife, especially haws-eating birds and disperses seeds in their droppings.

Hawthorn fruit can be eaten raw but is usually made into jellies, jams, and syrups, or used to make wine to add flavor to brandy.

Hawthorn fruit is small and oval, similar in size and shape to an olive or small grape, and red when ripe. The fruit appears in clusters of two or three along small branches. In this species, the native common hawthorn bears only one seed, but in other hawthorn species, there may be two to five seeds.

 

Characteristics of Common Hawthorn Tree

Crataegus monogyna Tree
Source: inaturalist.org/mahdiraeisi

Hawthorn grows as a shrub or small tree about 8-10 meters tall with a dense crown. The bark is dull brown with vertical orange cracks. The younger stems have sharp spines, the length of the spines is about 10-12 mm.

 

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