The number twelve is what pops into my mind when I think of hawthorns (Crataegus spp.). Is it because there are 12 species of hawthorn in Georgia? No, there are actually 53 species of Crataegus native to Georgia according to the USDA database, although a reference created for Georgia lists only 36 of “widespread occurrence”. Twelve is the location of hawthorn on the list of top 20 woody plants in support of Lepidoptera in the mid-Atlantic region. Oak is number one, cherry is number two and after that all I can remember is hawthorn is number 12.
|Spring flower, Crataegus uniflora|
Hawthorn is a lovely small tree in general and deserves increased usage for more reasons than being number 12. Crisp white flowers in the spring make some of the species good alternatives to overused spring-flowering trees like ornamental pears (which are not native).
|Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’|
The cultivar Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’ is a commonly available choice that grows up to 30 feet tall. A good display of flowers turns into a spectacular fall fruit show. It is also considered both drought and urban tolerant once established.
It is true that hawthorns do have thorns. Some plants have large thorns while others have more modest ones. Once trees reach a certain height, however, the thorns are not much of an issue to the average passerby. Hawthorns are sun loving plants and will flower and fruit best when sited for 6 or more hours of sun. I have several species native to my property and only those in sun produce flowers.
|Fall fruit, Crataegus triflora|
|Washington hawthorn, C. phaenopyrum|
|Atypical fall leaves|
of parsley hawthorn (C. marshallii)
Little hip hawthorn (C. spathulata) is another species that is both attractive and adaptable.
If fruit size is important, look for downy hawthorn, C. mollis, or mayhaw, C. aestivalis. Fall color is not especially noted for hawthorns, although both Washington hawthorn, C. phaenopyrum, and Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’ are indicated as having reliable color.
Whether you want spring flowers, fall fruit, a plant to deter burglars, or just like having a plant that supports over 150 different Lepidoptera, hawthorn is well worth considering.
|Fall fruit, C. munda|
Reference: The 2006 edition of Tipularia, the Journal of the Georgia Botanical Society, features a thorough treatment of the hawthorns found in Georgia and includes a key and pictures of most species. Older copies of Tipularia may be obtained by contacting the editor.