A mature tree will grow up to 15m tall and is characterised by its dense and thorny habit, although they may grow with a single stem as a small tree. The bark is tangled, fissured and is grey to brown colour. The twigs are slim and brown in colour with thorns covering most of them.
The leaves are about 6cm lengthwise and have teeth shaped lobes. Before falling in autumn they turn to a dull yellow colour.
Hawthorn trees are hermaphrodite; this means that the male and female reproductive organs are found in the same flower. The white or sometimes pink flowers are sweetly scented and have five petals which grow in topped clusters. Insects pollinate them and they turn into red fruits called ‘haws’.
Interesting fact: the hawthorn is known as the May-tree because of the trees flowering period. It is the only English tree that was named after the month to which it blooms in.
Many different insects are supported by this tree, more than 300 as an estimate. Lots of caterpillars from many species of moth eat the foliage including the orchard ermine, light emerald, vapourer, rhomboid tortrix and the small eggar. The flowers are a source of pollen and nectar for bees and are also eaten by dormice.
In medieval times, it was thought that hawthorn blossom would bring sickness and death if brought into the house, it was also said to have smelled like the great plague.
The timber is cream to brown in colour and has a finely grained texture which is very strong. It was used for engraving and turnery as well as to make veneers, boxes, cabinets and boat parts. The wood burns well and is often used for charcoal and firewood. Today it is a popular hedging plant and is used in a variety of situations such as wildlife gardens.
Hawthorn may be susceptible to aphid attack, gall mites and the bacterial disease, fireblight.