Hawthorn: ‘tree-following’

Go to the Loose and Leafy blog and you’ll find a great initiative. People from different parts of the UK, the USA, Europe and elsewhere have each chosen a tree, and have committed to writing about it once each month on their own blogs, sharing how it’s doing as the seasons change. It’s going to be fascinating following everyone’s trees. The project started in March, but it’s not too late to join in, so here’s my tree and my first post about it.

Obviously my tree is in Cornwall and, not only that, it’s in my own back garden.

New hedge back garden planted March 2014

I’ve recently planted a wildlife-friendly hedge. It includes common hawthorn, beech, field maple, dog rose and some scrambling field rose, and I’m going to follow one of the hawthorns (Crataegus monogyna). It’s never usually of course anything more than a small to medium-sized tree, and this particular one is right now very small, as I planted the hedge plants as bare-root ‘whips’, which ought to establish much better. Rather than just generally monitoring the progress of my hedge, I thought it would be much more interesting to follow this one in detail, to see not only how it grows and develops, but also watch what wildlife starts to take an interest.

My 'tree-following' hawthorn in between its hedge partners
My ‘tree-following’ hawthorn, in between its hedge partners

A traditional hedging plant (‘hawthorn’ is from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Hagathorn’, meaning hedge thorn), hawthorn and its close relative blackthorn are found in hedges and hedge banks in Cornwall (and across the UK, of course), where their thorns and dense growth have been used as a stock barrier for thousands of years.

Hawthorn is also known as May-tree, with its beautiful white blossom appearing in that month, brilliant for pollinators (apparently it is the only tree in Britain called after the month in which it flowers). The red berries (known as haws) that follow in the autumn are a treat for birds. My own May-tree won’t have blossom or berries this year, but it’s already pushing out its shiny new leaves in bundles of green energy.

Bundles of leaves emerging
Bundles of leaves emerging

And, as I’ve already painfully found out, it’s already sharpening its thorns!  I’ll report back again next month on how my hawthorn is doing.


Author: Amanda Scott

Cares about wildlife, nature and ecology.

7 thoughts on “Hawthorn: ‘tree-following’”

  1. Hawthorns have the prettiest of leaves. The delicacy and vibrancy of their colour, especially when the sun shines through them, is specially special at this time of year. I understand there are different varieties of hawthorns and there are several near where I live which have grown into quite substantial trees.

  2. We think of hawthorn as a hedge plant or shrub, but actually it’s a small tree (up to c. 15 m) that we’ve trained into being a hedge plant in the right circumstances. I so like it when humans and nature work together to achieve something positive when everyone gains, such as a hedgerow, for example, – farmers, pollinators, nesting birds, dormice, other small mammals etc. etc….

  3. The hawthorn is a great tree to follow. I didn’t know that the word haw came from the Anglo-Saxon Hagathorn. It would be interesting to discover why there were so many superstitions connected to this tree. For instance why was it considered unlucky to bring the May blossoms into the house?

    1. I’ll check the superstitions out and report back! Richard Mabey has quite a long section on Hawthorn, including its associated folklore, in his Flora Britannica, and it seems we are not entirely clear about the origin of the superstition that bringing it into the house meant death or illness. But Mabey thinks it may be the smell of the blossoms – apparently one of the chemicals produced is the same as is found in decaying tissue. Nice…

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