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).
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).
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