Crataegus, commonly known as Flowering Hawthorn trees, are popular for their plethora of spring flowers, colourful berries and autumnal foliage. Hawthorn trees are beneficial to wildlife, useful on boundaries where the thorns act as a deterrent and they are suited to tough or exposed positions.
Crataegus is a large genus of trees and shrubs, with many varieties suited to planting as ornamental trees, garden hedging and street planting. The native Crataegus monogyna has white flowers, as do a number of other varieties, but there are also red and pink flowering Hawthorn trees to choose from. Crataegus laevigata 'Plena' is noteworthy for its highly ornate double flowers. Hawthorn trees flower when in leaf, with some varieties possessing deeply lobed foliage. The deciduous foliage turns shades of yellow, orange and sometimes red in autumn.
Haw refers to the fruit but it is actually the Old English name for hedge. Most haws are red or orange in colour and those on Chinese Hawthorn (Crataegus Pinnatifida) can be used to make jellies, jams, juices, alcoholic beverages and snacks known as haw flakes and tanghulu. Crataegus pinnatifida var major 'Big Golden Star' produces particularly large haws that are the size of crab apples.
Hawthorn trees are of great benefit to British wildlife, with the thorny foliage providing a protected zone. The white flowers provide a good source of nectar for bees and the fruits are eaten by birds, such as thrushes and waxwings (who disperse the seeds in their droppings) and small mammals. Mature Hawthorn trees can support more than 300 types of insects!
Hawthorn are a tough group of trees and can cope with exposure to the elements. They grow well in full sun or partial shade and in most well draining soils. Newly planted trees will require some watering for the first couple of years, but otherwise Hawthorn is low maintenance. Simply remove damaged, dead or crossing branches.
Common names include Hawthorn, Maythorn, Thornapple, May-tree, Whitehorn and Hawberry. It is a common misunderstanding that the phrase: 'Ne'ver cast a clout till May is out' means do not shed your winter clothes until the month of May ends but it actually refers to the appearance of Maythorn flowers as the symbol of summer starting.