Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Also known as: May-tree
KingdomPlantae
PhylumAnthophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderRosales
FamilyRosaceae
GenusCrataegus (1)
SizeHeight: up to 18 m (2)

Widespread and very common (2).

Hawthorn is also widely known as the May-tree, and is the only British plant to be named after the month in which it flowers (3). It is most typically thought of as a hedgerow shrub, its thorns forming a good barrier to animals, however when isolated hawthorns are left uncut they develop into strong trees with dense crowns (4). The bark is greyish to brown in colour with regular fissures that reveal an orange layer below (2). The 3 to 5-lobed shiny leaves are roughly oval in shape. The flowers, which occur in groups of 9-18, are white, often with a pinkish blush (2), and provide a cheering display in the landscape that marks the cusp between spring and summer (3). The hawthorn tree is the origin of the Maypole, and the blossoms are used in Mayday decorations (3). The bright red berries, known as 'haws' are produced between May and September (2).

This very common tree is widespread throughout Britain and the rest of Europe (2). In Britain it has been planted as a hedgerow plant for centuries, so its natural range is unclear (5).

Hawthorn grows in hedgerows, scrub, thickets and woodlands in a range of habitats; it seems to favour calcareous soils (2), open habitats, heaths and rocky areas (3).

The flowering period of hawthorn is from March to June, and haws are produced from May to September (2). The haws are extremely important winter food items for a range of birds, which disperse the seeds by ingesting them and passing them in the faeces away from the parent plant (6).

Hawthorns can be fairly long-lived, often reaching 250 years of age (6); near Brecon Ash in Norfolk, there is a meeting place hawthorn, which is said to be around 700 years old (3). Perhaps the most well-known old hawthorn is the Holy Thorn at Glastonbury, which flowers twice a year, once at Christmas and again in May. It was first referred to in a sixteenth century poem, and according to legend grew from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea when he thrust it into the ground during a visit to Britain in the first century AD (3).

This tree is not threatened.

As this species is common and widespread, conservation action is not necessary.

For more on the wealth of folklore surrounding the hawthorn see: Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey (1996) published by Sinclair-Stevenson, London.

For more on British trees see: The Tree Council:
http://www.treecouncil.org.uk
and British Trees.com:
http://www.british-trees.com

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Feb 2003): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Humphries. C.J., Press, J.R. & Sutton, D.A. (2000) Hamlyn guide to trees of Britain and Europe. Hamlyn, London.
  3. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  4. Press, B. (1996) Collins Wild Guide: Trees. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
  5. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D. A., Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the Flora of Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press, London.
  6. British Trees: hawthorn (Feb 2003): http://www.british-trees.com/guide/hawthorn.htm