Monday, August 11, 2014

Hawthorns (Crataegus)

I have two small Hawthorn (Crataegus) trees at the back of my property.  They pose a bit of a dilemma.  I am at the stage where I either need to cut them down or integrate them into the plan.  As a reminder, the plan is that every organism on the Eaton Rapids Joe must "pay its rent". That is, it must justify, in some way, the square footage it takes up.

Hawthorns, with very few exceptions, are like the shrinking violet from 7th grade who never bloomed.  And I find myself in the position of the buddy who is trying to find them a date for the 5th year High School Class Reunion.  One struggles to find even faint praise with which to damn them.

Picture from HERE

The exceptions are Mayhaws and Crataegus schraderana.  Crataegus pinnatifida almost manages to scale the heights of mediocrity.  For the most part, the others fall into the category of "Starvation Foods".

Not only do the fruit fall into the catalog on the same page as other fruits that "can be used to make jelly or pickles", but the foliage and fruit are bedeviled by every disease known to the plant kingdom.  For those who have not broken the code used in seed catalogs, jelly and pickles can be made from corn cobs, water melon rind and/or roofing shingles.  That description is well short of a rousing recommendation.

And so you ask, "Why do you hesitate?  Fire up the chainsaw and get rid of them!"

Well, because.

Hawthorn is the backbone of inpenetrable hedges.  A hedge that can keep a bull separated from heifers-in-heat is likely to keep the occasional wanderer from casually trespassing on my property.  It would be nice to have the option to lay that kind of hedge should the need ever arise.

And some hawthorn species are more disease resistant than others.

And some hawthorn species can just about grow in standing water.

And hawthorn are naturally deer resistant.

And some pears can be grafted on top of some hawthorns....or so it is claimed.


I spent a couple of hours looking at the local hawthorn talent with the intention of identifying promising selections and collecting scion wood later on.  The local pickings are mighty thin!  I found a couple of selections with leaves that were not completely tattered by disease and that had at least a modest amount of fruit.

I may have to break down and ride my bike in the older parts of town(s) and older cemeteries to see if I can scout out any older specimens.  Hawthorn trees had a brief moment of popularity back in the 1930s before they were eclipsed by crabapples and flowering pears.  Any specimens from that period will have enough durability to have survived 70 years of mid-Western weather and that is a fine recommendation.

I also found a man who sells scion wood of selected varieties but he lives off-grid and is not connected to the internet.  His name is Richard Fahey and he lives in Oxford, New York.  He rumored to even be growing mayhaws which is amazing because their natural range goes very little north of  the Louisiana-Arkansas line.


  1. It seems to me that when we were in a tour of Mt. Vernon, some of the "field dividers" consisted of neatly trimmed and tightly woven Hawthorn. As I recall, George Washington attempted to create critter-proof fences using that plant.

  2. After looking at wild specimens for another day and doing a little bit of species identification, it appears that Crataegus crus-galli ( have the best foliage health of the species native to Michigan. The search continues!


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