The May Tree: Hawthorn Shines in Spring

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During the month of May it seems fitting to mention a lovely species often called the May Tree. Aptly named for the month in which it blooms, the May Tree, or hawthorn, is a small, showy tree. It displays clusters of beauitful, white or pink blooms in spring.

Hawthorn is native through much of Europe and in Eastern North America. The tree has long, sharp thorns along its horizontal branches. With its thorny branches, hawthorn is an excellent hedge boundary and privacy screen. Berry-like fruit attracts many birds that take shelter in the tree’s dense, thorny foliage. Early settlers to North America ate the fruit during harsh winters. During medieval times, Europeans made jams and jellies with it.

The hawthorn fruit is called haws and is an important winter food for many birds.

Cultural and Historic Significance

The hawthorn tree holds traditional significance in numerous cultures. According to myth, the tree was seeded from lightning and offers protection against storms and fire. Ancient Greeks saw it as a symbol of springtime and fertility and used it as garland and decoration during wedding festivities. Celtic and Gaelic lore often associates the tree with faeries. In fact, the story of Thomas the Rhymer, references a hawthorn as the meeting place of the Scottish poet and the Faery Queen.

Hawthorn Care Recommendations

With its unique history and distinctive physical attributes, hawthorn is a great ornamental tree. It should be planted in a sunny spot. Tolerant of a range of soil pH, textures, and moisture levels, it is also moderately drought tolerant. The white flowers last about one to two weeks and are an excellent food source for pollinators.

A number of insect pests, such as aphids, mites and scale, favor hawthorn. It is susceptible to several diseases including fire blight, leaf spots and rusts. These issues can escalate quickly. As such, hawthorn should be routinely checked for any signs of pests and disease.

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