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What Is English Hawthorn?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 16, 2024
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An English hawthorn is a type of small tree in the rose family. Popular in North America, the English hawthorn is native to Europe. Although historically these trees were used for medicinal purposes, they are more often used now for landscaping. The scientific name of the English hawthorn is Crataegus laevigata.

Deciduous, English hawthorns can reach heights of 15-20 feet (4.6—6.1 m), with a nearly equal width, if left unpruned. Their leaves are dark green and alternate on the stem. Rounded and lobed, the leaves are usually between 1.5 and 2.5 inches (3.8—6.35 cm) long. They are said to resemble small oak leaves. The English hawthorn's branches have 1 inch (2.54 cm) long thorns protruding at intervals.

In May, clusters of white flowers bloom in corymbs. Corymbs are flower clusters which appear to be flat on top. Each flower is small and has five rounded, slightly overlapping petals. In early fall, small red fruit forms. The berries are about 0.5 inches (1.27 cm) across and attract a variety of birds.

Frequently used as specimen trees or to line sidewalks or streets in commercial areas, these plants may also be pruned into shrubs and used as hedges. When used as a specimen tree, one plant is usually placed in an open area and allowed to grow naturally with minimal or no pruning. English Hawthorns used to line streets, however, must have their lower branches pruned regularly.

Easy to grow, English hawthorns prefers fertile soil but will grow in most soils, including clay. They are drought tolerant and do best in full sunlight. Propagation can be achieved by cuttings, but in the wild, birds distribute their seeds after eating the fruit. Since the plant is so easy to grow, however, in some areas, particularly in the Pacific region of the United States, it is considered a pest species.

The English hawthorn is susceptible to a wide variety of diseases and pests. Leaf spot and leaf blight are the main diseases that affect these plants. Pests include tent caterpillars, spider mites, pear slugs, and aphids. Leaf miners and borers are also a problem for these trees.

Several cultivars and hybrids have been developed that purport to be disease resistant. The crimson cloud and Paul's scarlet cultivars both have been shown to have some resistance to leaf blight. They also may be desired for their red or red and white flowers. Two hybrids, called snowbird and toba, are also said to be disease resistant, but there is less evidence to support this claim.

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