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It is likely that the old saying ‘never cast a clout ’til May is out’ does not refer to the month, but rather to this small tree which drapes the countryside in white clothing and is often referred to as the ‘May-tree’.  It’s other names include whitethorn and quickthorn (quick meaning ‘live’).  Interestingly, the first blossom you will see in hedgerows in the countryside is not usually hawthorn, but blackthorn, which flowers before its leaves appear.

Due to the timing of its flowering, May Queens are often crowned in hawthorn and May festivals often feature the plant.  The leaves and buds are edible.  The wood is good for turning and when laid as a hedge it provides a natural animal-proof barrier.  Their blossom provides an abundance of food for insects while birds prefer the dense spiny cover it provides for their nests.


Hawthorn among bluebells at Rannerdale, Cumbria

Hawthorn among bluebells at Rannerdale, Cumbria


Hawthorns are highly adaptable.  They prefer full sun, but are found in many situations and can flourish on most soil types.  They are often twisted into random shapes by the wind but still manage to put on a show at this time of year.  The smallest Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Britain surrounds the ‘Hethel Thorn’ in Norfolk which is thought to be over 700 years old.

There are two native types – Crataegus monogyna (common hawthorn) and Crataegus laevigata (the Midland hawthorn).  There are some differences between the leaves and flowers, but the main difference is that common hawthorns’ berries (haws) contain one seed (monogyna translating as ‘one seed’), whereas Midland hawthorns’ berries contain two.





If you prefer an alternative to the native white hawthorn, my favourite is ‘rosea flore pleno’ which has double pink flowers.  ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ is another nice variety with flowers of a deeper shade.  Being tough little native trees they do best on most sites, but plant in full sun for best effect.



Double pink Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata rosea flore pleno)

Double pink Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata rosea flore pleno) – photo taken from www.rvroger.co.uk

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