Create Your Garden

Crataegus (Hawthorn)

Hawthorn is prized for its beautiful spring blossoms, vibrant autumn berries, and fall colors. It is also valued for its wildlife and medicinal properties

Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata ,paul scarlet

What is Hawthorn?

Hawthorns are deciduous trees and shrubs prized for their ornamental beauty, medicinal uses, and ecological benefits. They are most notable for their profuse white or pink flowers, often with a pleasant scent, and their bright red berries called “haws” which persist into the winter.

Native: Hawthorn species are native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Their adaptability means they’ve become part of the natural landscape in many areas outside their native regions. As part of the Rosaceae family, hawthorns are related to roses, apples, and cherries, among other plants. With over 200 species, the Crataegus genus exhibits a wide range of sizes, forms, and habitats, but all share the family’s characteristic flowers and fruit.

Growth Habit: Hawthorns are deciduous trees or shrubs, usually with thorny branches, making them an excellent choice for defensive hedges in addition to their ornamental uses. These plants typically have a rounded growth habit, with a dense branching structure that provides shelter for wildlife. They often display a variety of growth forms, from low shrubs to tall trees.

Size: The size of hawthorn plants can vary greatly, with species ranging from 10-50 feet (3-15 meters) in height and 10-40 feet (3-12 meters) in spread.

Flowers: The flowers of hawthorn species are typically small, white to pink, and have five petals. They’re usually grouped in corymbs or panicles and are known for their beauty and spicy, almond-like scent.

Blooming Season: Hawthorns bloom in mid to late spring, with their flowers providing a spectacular display beneficial for pollinators.

Fruit: After flowering, hawthorn produces bright red berries or “haws,” which are small, apple-like fruits. These edible fruits are a vital food source for birds such as robins, waxwings, and other songbirds during the fall and winter.

Crataegus marshallii, Hawthorn, Parsley Hawthorn, ThornappleCrataegus marshallii

Hawthorn, crataegus monogynaHawthorn berries

Foliage: Hawthorn leaves are typically glossy green, with shapes ranging from simple and ovate to lobed, depending on the species. They provide vibrant autumn colors, ranging from yellow to deep red.

Bark: The bark of hawthorn trees is relatively smooth in young specimens but becomes rougher and may peel off in older trees, adding winter interest.

Hardiness: Hawthorns are hardy and adaptable, generally suitable for growing in USDA zones 3-9.

Uses: In landscaping, hawthorns are used as specimen trees, hedges, or group plantings. The berries have culinary uses, and various plant parts are used in traditional medicine, particularly for heart-related conditions.

Wildlife: The early blossoms are a valuable nectar source for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators emerging in spring. The fruit provides food for birds and mammals, enhancing biodiversity. Hawthorn trees and shrubs are particularly enticing to several bird species, including the American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Gray Catbird, Northern Cardinal, and Northern Mockingbird. With their abundant berries and dense foliage, hawthorns provide essential food and shelter, making them a favored habitat for these avian visitors.

Toxicity: While the hawthorn berries are edible, the seeds found inside the berries are known to contain a compound called amygdalin, which is a cyanogenic glycoside. While the small amount of flesh on the hawthorn berries is generally considered safe to consume, ingesting the seeds can potentially lead to cyanide poisoning, with symptoms including difficulty breathing, agitation, and even potentially fatal consequences in severe cases. However, poisoning from hawthorn seeds is rare, primarily because a relatively large quantity of seeds would need to be consumed to achieve a toxic effect.

Deer and Rabbit: While hawthorn has some deer-resistant qualities, mainly because of its thorns, it is not entirely immune to deer browsing, particularly if food is scarce.

Drought: Once established, hawthorns are relatively drought-tolerant, making them a good choice for xeriscaping or areas with occasional water shortages.

Invasiveness: While hawthorns are native to many areas, they can become invasive in certain conditions, spreading through their seeds, which are dispersed by animals.

Key Facts: A key fact about hawthorns is their historical and cultural significance. They’re associated with various folklore and myths, particularly in the British Isles, and are often found in old hedges marking ancient field boundaries. Their medicinal use also dates back centuries, with modern research supporting some benefits, especially for heart health.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Climate Zones 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17
Plant Type Shrubs, Trees
Plant Family Rosaceae
Genus Crataegus
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 10' - 50'
(3m - 15.2m)
Spread 10' - 40'
(3m - 12.2m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral, Alkaline
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Fruit & Berries, Fragrant
Native Plants United Kingdom, United States, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, Southwest, Southeast, Rocky Mountains, Northeast, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Indiana, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Nevada, Montana, Utah, Wyoming
Tolerance Drought
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Birds
Landscaping Ideas Hedges And Screens, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Coastal Garden, Informal and Cottage, Prairie and Meadow
Crataegus marshallii (Parsley Hawthorn)
Crataegus douglasii (Black Hawthorn)
Crataegus laevigata ‘Punicea’ (English Hawthorn)

Why Should I Grow a Hawthorn Tree?

Growing a Hawthorn tree in your garden or landscape comes with a host of benefits:

Aesthetic Appeal: Hawthorns are renowned for their seasonal beauty, featuring a spectacular display of white or pink flowers in spring, lush green foliage in summer, bright berries in autumn, and a structural form in winter. This year-round visual interest can enhance the appeal of any garden.

Wildlife Support: The flowers attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The berries provide a vital food source for birds and small mammals during colder months when food is scarce, while the dense branches offer shelter and nesting opportunities.

Medicinal Properties: Hawthorn berries, leaves, and flowers have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, particularly for heart-related conditions. They are believed to have antioxidant properties and to support cardiovascular health, though it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before using hawthorn for medicinal purposes.

Hardiness and Adaptability: Hawthorns are notably resilient and can thrive in a variety of soil conditions, making them suitable for various landscapes. They also tolerate urban pollution, making them a good choice for city planting schemes.

Boundary and Security: The thorny nature of many hawthorn species can be an effective deterrent for unwanted wildlife, making them excellent for natural fencing or boundary-setting without compromising on aesthetic value.

Cultural Significance: Hawthorns are special in various cultures and folklore, often associated with good luck and protection. Planting one can provide a sense of connection to cultural traditions and local heritage.

Low Maintenance: Once established, hawthorns require minimal care, being relatively drought-resistant and needing only occasional pruning to maintain shape or health.

Versatility in Landscape Design: Hawthorns can serve many purposes in landscape design, from standalone specimen trees to hedgerows, thanks to their dense growth habit.

Crataegus laevigata. Hawthorn with red fruits in the winter.

English Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) with berries in winter

Hawthorn Berries – Any Health Benefits?

Hawthorn berries are renowned for their potential health benefits, especially concerning heart health. However, it’s crucial to understand that while hawthorn has been used in traditional medicine for centuries and has shown promise in clinical studies, you should always consult with a healthcare professional before using it, especially if you have health conditions or are taking other medications. Here are some potential health benefits:

Cardiovascular Health: Hawthorn berries, along with the leaves and flowers of the hawthorn plant, are used widely in traditional herbal remedies for various heart diseases. They’re believed to strengthen the heart’s pumping ability, improve circulation, and enhance cardiac performance. They may help manage symptoms of heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, chest pain, and atherosclerosis.

Antioxidant Properties: Hawthorn berries contain flavonoids and other compounds with antioxidant properties that help neutralize harmful free radicals, potentially reducing your risk of chronic diseases and slowing down the aging process.

Digestive Health: Some people use hawthorn to aid digestion, particularly for disorders related to the intestine and liver. Its organic compounds can improve nutrient digestion and promote healthy bowel movements.

Anti-inflammatory Effects: The plant’s anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce discomfort and improve mobility in conditions like joint pain or arthritis.

Anxiety and Stress: Anecdotal evidence suggests that hawthorn may have a calming effect on the nervous system, helping to reduce anxiety and stress. However, more research is needed in this area.

Immune System: The vitamin C and antioxidant content in hawthorn berries can also give your immune system a boost.

Cholesterol Levels: Some studies have suggested that hawthorn berry extract may improve blood fat levels, lowering the accumulation of fats in the liver and bloodstream and potentially reducing the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.

While the benefits of hawthorn are supported by its long-standing inclusion in herbal medicine, its effects should not be taken as a substitute for medical treatment, and its usage for health-related purposes should be discussed with a healthcare provider. Moreover, hawthorn can interact with certain medications, especially those related to heart diseases, so it’s imperative to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any regimen with hawthorn.

Crataegus punctata (Dotted Hawthorn)
Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ (English Hawthorn)
Crataegus crus-galli (Cockspur Hawthorn)

Garden Design with Hawthorn

Incorporating a hawthorn tree into your garden design can add year-round aesthetic appeal and create a habitat that encourages wildlife to visit. Here are several considerations and tips for including hawthorn in your garden layout:

Specimen Planting: Hawthorns are excellent as specimen trees due to their attractive foliage, showy flowers, and bright berries. Plant them in a spot where they can be easily seen and appreciated — perhaps in the center of a lawn or near a patio.

Wildlife Garden: Hawthorns are a boon for wildlife; their flowers attract pollinators, while the berries are a food source for birds and small mammals. Planting them in your garden contributes to local biodiversity.

Hedging: Hawthorns are sturdy and dense, making them great for hedges. They provide privacy and can act as windbreaks. Their thorns also make them a natural deterrent for unwanted intruders, providing security.

Mixed Borders: Combine hawthorns with other shrubs, grasses, and perennials for a dynamic, multi-season border. Consider the color of hawthorn flowers and berries when choosing companion plants to create pleasing color schemes throughout the seasons.

Seasonal Interest: Hawthorns offer interest across multiple seasons — flowers in spring, lush foliage in summer, berries in autumn, and a structural form in winter. This makes them valuable in garden designs aiming for year-round appeal.

Underplanting: The area beneath hawthorns can be planted with various shade-tolerant plants. Consider ground covers, bulbs, and perennials that complement the tree’s height and form.

Practical Considerations: Keep in mind the mature size of the hawthorn species you choose, soil preferences, and sun requirements. Some hawthorns can grow quite large, so ensure there’s enough space for the tree to expand both above and below ground.

Safety: The thorns of hawthorn trees can be quite sharp, so consider placement carefully, especially if children frequent the garden.

Companion Plants for Hawthorn Trees

Allium (Ornamental Onion)
Astilbe
Camassia (Camas)
Crocus
Hosta (Plantain Lily)
Narcissi (Daffodils)
Tulips
Viburnum
Cornus (Dogwood)

Growing and Caring for a Hawthorn Tree

Growing and caring for hawthorn trees involves several steps, from planting to ongoing maintenance. Here’s a guide to help you through the process:

Selecting a Site:

  • Light: Hawthorns thrive in full sun but can tolerate partial shade.
  • Soil: They prefer well-drained soil but adapt to various soil types, even poor soils. However, they don’t do well in very wet conditions.
  • Space: Consider the mature size of the tree. Hawthorns can grow 10 to 40 feet (3-12 meters) wide, so they need adequate space to expand.

Planting:

  • When: Plant in early fall or early spring.
  • How: Dig a hole twice the width of the root ball and the same depth. Place the tree in the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Fill in with soil and press firmly. Water thoroughly.

Watering:

  • Water regularly after planting. Once established, hawthorns are quite drought-tolerant but will benefit from watering during dry spells.

Fertilizing:

  • In general, hawthorns don’t require much fertilization. If growth is poor, you can apply a general-purpose fertilizer in spring or fall.
  • Early spring is the best time to fertilize hawthorn trees, just before the onset of new growth. Fertilizing at this time provides nutrients that the tree can use throughout the active growing season.
  • Late fall, after the tree has gone dormant (post leaf drop), is also considered an appropriate time for fertilizing. Fall fertilization can help strengthen a tree’s root system and replenish nutrients expended during the spring and summer. This can prepare the tree for a robust start when the next growing season arrives.

Pruning:

  • Prune in the dormant season (late winter to early spring).
  • Remove any diseased, damaged, or dead branches. Also, clear out crowded branches and thin as needed to allow light and air into the canopy.
  • Note: Hawthorns are often armed with sharp thorns, so use caution when pruning.

Propagation:

  • Hawthorns can be propagated by seed, grafting, or hardwood cuttings.

Mulching:

  • Apply 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) of organic mulch around the base of the tree to retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and reduce weed growth. Keep mulch away from the actual trunk to prevent rot.

Remember, the specific needs of your hawthorn may vary based on the species and local growing conditions. Always consider consulting a local nursery or cooperative extension service for specific advice in your area.

Crataegus laevigata ‘Rosea Flore Pleno’ (English Hawthorn)
Crataegus monogyna (Common Hawthorn)
Crataegus phaenopyrum (Washington Hawthorn)

Pest and Diseases

Hawthorn trees, while generally robust, are susceptible to several pests and diseases that can affect their health and appearance. Here’s a list of some common ones:

Pests

Aphids: These small, sap-sucking insects can cause leaves to curl and stunt growth. They also produce a sticky substance called honeydew, which can lead to sooty mold.

Hawthorn Lace Bugs: These tiny insects have clear, lace-like wings and feed on the undersides of leaves. They cause yellowish spots or stippling on leaves, leading to a bronzed or grayish appearance with heavy infestation, potentially stressing the tree.

Hawthorn Leafminers: These are the larval stage of a small fly. They create winding tunnels, or “mines,” within leaves, leading to brown or discolored trails and, in severe cases, premature leaf drop. Their presence is more damaging to the tree’s appearance than its health.

Pear Sawfly: It lays eggs on the undersides of leaves, leading to slug-like larvae, greenish-black and shiny, known for their voracious appetite for the soft tissue of leaves. Infested trees exhibit leaves with a skeletonized pattern as the larvae consume the leaf’s surface, leaving only the veins untouched.

Spider mites: These tiny pests cause yellow, stippled leaves and can lead to leaf drop when present in large numbers.

Scale insects: Scale insects are small pests that attach to the plant and suck sap, weakening the tree. They’re often noticed due to the sticky honeydew they produce.

Borers: Certain larvae bore into the wood, potentially causing structural damage or even tree death. Symptoms include sawdust-like frass and sap oozing from holes in the trunk.

Webworms and tent caterpillars: They defoliate tree sections, often creating unsightly webs.

Diseases

Apple scab A fungal disease affecting apple trees and related species like hawthorns, leading to leaf spotting, premature defoliation, and fruit deformation, diminishing the tree’s health and aesthetic appeal.

Fire blight: A bacterial disease that causes branches to appear scorched, with blackened leaves, often with a characteristic shepherd’s hook bend at the tip. It can be very destructive.

Rust (including cedar-hawthorn rust): These fungal diseases create orange to yellow spots on leaves, often with corresponding swellings or galls on junipers, the alternate host.

Leaf spot: Various fungi cause small, round spots on leaves, which may yellow and drop prematurely.

Powdery mildew: This fungus covers leaves in a white to gray powder-like substance, potentially leading to distorted growth and leaf drop.

Management:

  • Regular monitoring is key to detecting and effectively managing pests and diseases.
  • Prune and dispose of infected branches (preferably during dormancy) to reduce disease spread and maintain good air circulation with proper tree spacing and pruning.
  • When applied correctly, horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps can be effective against aphids, mites, and scale for pest infestations.
  • Fungicides may be necessary for severe fungal infections, but they are generally preventative, not curative, so application before symptoms appear is important.
  • Maintaining overall tree health through proper watering, mulching, and fertilization can make trees less susceptible to pests and diseases.

Always follow product instructions carefully when using chemical controls, and consider consulting with local agricultural extension services or professional arborists for diagnosis and management recommendations specific to your area.

Crataegus pinnatifida (Chinese Hawthorn)
Crataegus punctata (Dotted Hawthorn)
Crataegus mollis (Downy Hawthorn)

Discover These Helpful Hawthorn Guides for Further Reading

Discover Other Beautiful Shrubs and Trees for Your Garden

While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Climate Zones 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17
Plant Type Shrubs, Trees
Plant Family Rosaceae
Genus Crataegus
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 10' - 50'
(3m - 15.2m)
Spread 10' - 40'
(3m - 12.2m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Neutral, Alkaline
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Fruit & Berries, Fragrant
Native Plants United Kingdom, United States, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, Southwest, Southeast, Rocky Mountains, Northeast, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Indiana, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Nevada, Montana, Utah, Wyoming
Tolerance Drought
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Birds
Landscaping Ideas Hedges And Screens, Beds And Borders
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Coastal Garden, Informal and Cottage, Prairie and Meadow
Compare All Crataegus (Hawthorn)
Compare Now

Related Items

Please Login to Proceed

You Have Reached The Free Limit, Please Subscribe to Proceed

Subscribe to Gardenia

To create additional collections, you must be a paid member of Gardenia
  • Add as many plants as you wish
  • Create and save up to 25 garden collections
Become a Member

Plant Added Successfully

You have Reached Your Limit

To add more plants, you must be a paid member of our site Become a Member

Update Your Credit
Card Information

Cancel

Create a New Collection

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

    You have been subscribed successfully

    Join Gardenia.net

    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!

    Join Gardenia.net

    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!

    Find your Hardiness Zone

    Find your Heat Zone

    Find your Climate Zone