Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.)
The Hawthorn family is huge in this country with nearly 200 species of Hawthorn trees, not counting another 100 or so species of shrubs. Many of those species are native to North America. You can have a bushy Hawthorn shrub or a fairly good sized 30 foot tall Hawthorn tree. You can generalize about some aspects of this family. Hawthorns will usually have white blossoms that in some cases smell nice and in others smell pretty bad. They will have really nice looking red or yellow fruit in the late fall and early winter. The trees will tend to have short stout trunks and rather crooked, spreading branches. Perhaps the most important feature of the Hawthorn is the thorns, really tough, long and very sharp thorns adorning the branches. Some folks might consider that a disadvantage, but I don t look at them that way. If you want a tree that kids won t climb, get a Hawthorn. If you want a hedge that no child, dog, or even cat will penetrate, get a Hawthorn. The best reason for having a Hawthorn tree is that it adds beauty to the landscape all year long with gorgeous blossoms in the spring, attractive green foliage in the summer that turns into golden yellow in the fall. And then in the winter it displays either red or orange fruits sometimes as big as crabapples. After looking pretty all winter, those fruits feed all manner of birds and mammals before spring comes around for another cycle. When the blossoms of the Hawthorn make your yard look terrific, you could care less about the thorns.
The Hawthorns will live from 50 to 100 years and they have a long history dating as far back as the Bible. It is said to be what the "crown of thorns" was made of. In Europe, especially Germany, it was grown as part of a hedgerow to divide fields and land. The Pilgrims named their boat after it using one of its common names, Mayflower. It was advised in early England never to sit under a Hawthorn tree, as it was associated with fairies and was thought to provide a route into their world. It was believed that if Hawthorn flowers were brought into the house a death would follow. Hawthorn berries and flowers were once thought to cure sore throats
While there are hundreds of species in the Hawthorn family, you will find anywhere from 6 to 15 choices in your local nursery or garden center. Perhaps the most common for landscape plantings are the Washington Hawthorn and a cultivar of Green Hawthorn called `Winter King . In the rest of this section I ll give you some of the cultivars I think are worth including in the home landscape.