The Mighty Hawthorn By Stephen Melhuish …(Plant Sales Team Leader) at Nicholsons Nurseries, North Aston. Oxfordshire

Although a number of flowers bridge the gap between winter and early spring none more than the mighty hawthorn in full bloom during May can claim its rightful place...

Although a number of flowers bridge the gap between winter and early spring none more than the mighty hawthorn in full bloom during May can claim its rightful place as the number one contender for heralding the arrival of ‘full-on’ spring.

This plant is only second to the English Oak for its contribution to wildlife in the British countryside.

Yes I can hear you saying… “it’s OK, but it has thorns” so why should you even consider buying or planting it…well of course it does have thorns, but really I implore you to seriously…get over it!

If this might sound a little abrupt then bare with me because this shrubby tree has so many merits that the thorns are but a mere annoyance to our sensibilities.

Folk Lore:

So loved was the hawthorn by Henry VIII that he used it as his emblem for the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ meeting in France.

In Ireland, hawthorns were thought to be used to protect a home and household from evil on May Day.

The Legend of Saint Joseph of Arimathea (a disciple of Christ) has it that he reached Glastonbury in Somerset in the first Century and stuck his holy staff of hawthorn into the ground and that it miraculously sprouted. This led to the legend of the ‘Holy Thorn of Glastonbury’ – this tradition carries on to this day.


In a less formal part of a garden make room for it to form a small thicket, it will thrive and become the most remarkable area for wildlife in all its forms. Perhaps one could look at adding it as a hedge, or at least as a good part of one. Failing that they make beautiful trees in their less common forms with red or pink flowers.

Here at Nicholsons the bare root season really finishes towards the back end of March. However during the early few months of the year we stocked a large range of native bare root hedging species and by far the most successful of these for sales and usually the first to run out due to its popularity is the Common Hawthorn (Crataegus Monogyna). So whatever planting form you choose, please grow it somewhere!

Wildlife attracted to the hawthorn may surprise you: birds, reptiles, mammals and insects. It’s one of the best nesting sites with its thorny protection.

In May the flower provides the life-force for bees, flies and many other insects. The flowers are a perfect food source for hungry young birds that hatch within its protective branches.

Later in the year and as autumn approaches the fruits ripen as berries. The fruits are haws, hence hawthorn. It’s reassuring to know that the fruit will be enjoyed by wildlife of all shapes and sizes. Jays and robins along with waxwings, thrushes, blackbirds, starlings and redwings. Ground birds such as pheasant and grouse will also venture in to take the fallen fruit and rodents like voles and mice…squirrels will make an appearance as well as passing deer and cattle that will reach up to the lower branches to supplement their diet.

The Hawthorn supports a wildlife list that’s vast with more than a 150 species of insect, these in turn provide a rich source of food for wrens and blue tits.

So even if you’re not a fan of the hawthorn but perhaps enjoy bird-watching then this plant will provide the perfect habitat for many of your favourite feathered friends, so why not plant it anyway?

A member of the Rose Family:

Yes really!

Rose lovers out there should take a very close look at the flowers of the Hawthorn. It might surprise you, but the Hawthorn is, in fact, a member of the rose family. This is particularly evident with some of the red and pink flowering forms – where the flowers appear like miniature roses. Varieties such as Crataegus x media ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ is surely one of the deepest red and  thickly  flowering hawthorns available. Or if you prefer a flower that has good contrast then choose Crataegus monogyna ‘Crimson Cloud’…this has a deep burgundy red outer petal with a whitish centre. It is very attractive indeed and both of these can be used as single specimen ornamental trees to grace any specific point of interest in a mixed shrub and tree border. It can also be used on its own, free standing in a lawn.

I have visited gardens where people have collected together nothing but hawthorns to illuminate the merits of May in flower and the berries of autumn, a beautiful sight at both ends of the year.

Native Giant:

In conclusion I’d like to go so far as to say that the hawthorn is indeed one of our native giants. If you’re looking for a tree and had forgotten just how beautiful the ancient hawthorn is, then take a trip to the countryside in May to see the mass of blossom that says “hello spring”. Alternatively, remember it by its other popular names…quickthorn, May blossom, May flower or maybe just by the only native tree species that has a month named after it…may tree!

Although the bare-root season might be over for this year many of the hawthorns are available in varying pots sizes and growth heights from Nicholsons Nurseries.

With Maggie Chaplin