Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
The Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is also known as the "May tree" as it flowers in the month of May.
Useful info about Hawthorn trees
|Latin Name||Crataegus monogyna|
|Type||Deciduous (loses its leaves in winter)|
|Height||Can grow up to 5 - 10 metres (20 - 40 feet)|
|Spread||The branches can spread out to 5 metres (20 feet)|
|Soil Types Preferred||Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand|
|Locations Suitable||Farmland, Gardens, Hedgerows|
|Flowers||White flowers in April / May|
|Fruit||Red berries in Summer|
|Celtic Tree Month||May 13 - June 9|
Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is also known as Quickthorn or the May Tree.
Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "hagathorn" which means "hedge thorn" and it is often used as hedgerow plant.
The flowers, produced in late spring, have five white petals, and are moderately fragrant.
It produces an abundance of white flowers in May which yield small red fruits by late summer / autumn. The fruit is very popular with birds.
Hawthorn leaves are dark green and shiny, with 3, 5 or 7 lobes.
It's pale brown or grey bark cracks into knobbly, oblong plates.
Hawthorn is a native tree and thrives on most soils, including heavy ones. It makes a splendid garden tree and is a popular choice in wildlife gardens.
It typically reaches a height of 8 - 15 metres (26 - 50 feet).
A famous specimen, the Glastonbury Thorn, was noteworthy because it flowered twice in a year, once in the late spring which is normal, but also once after the harshness of midwinter has passed. The original specimen at Glastonbury Abbey, now long dead, has been propagated as the cultivar 'Biflora'.
The oldest known living specimen in East Anglia, and possibly in the United Kingdom, is known as "The Hethel Old Thorn", and is located in the churchyard in the small village of Hethel, south of Norwich, in Norfolk. It is reputed to be more than 700 years old, having been planted in the 13th Century.
Common Hawthorn is extensively planted as a hedge plant, especially for agricultural use. Its spines and close branching habit render it effectively stock and human proof with some basic maintenance.
Hawthorn timber is cream / brown in colour, with a fine grain and it's very hard. It was used to make veneers and cabinets, as well as boxes, tool handles and boat parts. It's also good for firewood and charcoal.
Young hawthorn leaves, flower buds and young flowers are all edible. They can be added to green salads.
The developing flower buds are especially good. Known as "haws" they can be eaten raw but might cause a bit of mild stomach upset. They are normally used to make jellies, ketchups and even wine.
Any uses for trees or tree extracts, whether edible or medicinal, have not been tried or tested by EFORESTS.
Please take caution and seek proper advice before attempting any recipes or medicinal extracts from any of the trees listed on our site.
Culture and Symbolism
Hawthorn trees are believed to represent love, beauty, protection and fertility.
In Britain, it used to be thought that bringing hawthorn blossom into a house would be followed by illness and death. In Medieval Britain people said that hawthorn blossom smelled like the Great Plague.
It turns out that hawthorn blossom contains the chemical trimethylamine - which is one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue. Therefore it's not a surprise that hawthorn flowers are associated with death.
In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn (in Scottish Gaelic, "Sgitheach" and in Irish, "sceach") apparently 'marks the entrance to the otherworld' and is strongly associated with fairies.
The folklorist Bob Curran questioned whether the ill luck of the De Lorean Motor Company was associated with the destruction of a fairy thorn to make way for a production facility!
The warning to retain one's winter clothing until warm weather has arrived for good – 'n'er cast a clout 'til may is out' – refers not to the end of the month of May, but the emergence of the hawthorn ('may') flowers - hence its local nickname, "May Blossom".
Serbian folklore notes hawthorn (in Serbian glog) is particularly deadly to vampires, and stakes used for their slaying must be made from the wood of the thorn tree.
In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn (in Scottish Gaelic, Sgitheach and in Irish, sceach) 'marks the entrance to the otherworld' and is strongly associated with the fairies. Lore has it that it is very unlucky to cut the tree at any time other than when it is in bloom, however during this time it is commonly cut and decorated as a May Bush (see Beltane). This warning persists to modern times; it has been questioned by folklorist Bob Curran whether the ill luck of the De Lorean Motor Company was associated with the destruction of a fairy thorn to make way for a production facility.
Hawthorn trees are often found beside clootie wells; at these types of holy wells they are sometimes known as 'rag trees', for the strips of cloth which are tied to them as part of healing rituals. 'When all fruit fails, welcome haws' was once a common expression in Ireland.
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