I was in my old neighborhood in the Lower East Side yesterday and saw a row of trees from across the street. I thought they may have been hawthorns, though was doubtful. It would seem like they would have been long past blooming this late in the spring. But sure enough, I found the entire block of Stanton Street was planted with Crataegus viridis or green hawthorn.
As you can see from the photo below, the bloom has dulled a bit and I'm sure these specimens looked much better a week ago. But I've wanted to blog about this plant for so long and have yet to get around to it so I'm not going to wait a whole other year!
Crataegus viridis is a small ornamental flowering tree with corymbs of white flowers in mid spring. The flowers are not as showy or colorful as a Malus or Prunus but they are quite lovely. And hawthorns have several other advantages to offer. Namely, depending on the cultivar, the plant is laden with showy, persistent berries in the fall and winter. 'Winter King' has long been a favorite due to it's gorgeous fruit set each year.
Another advantage is this plant's status as a native to the southeastern US. Perhaps related to this, the plant is very tough and is not prone to the many diseases that haunt crabapples.
Finally, hawthorns provide habitat to many local wildlife species. The berries provide food for birds and the plant itself is a great supporter of butterflies. In fact, wikipedia has a great list of butterfly and moth species that find sustenance from this tree. However, one species that does not like the hawthorn is deer. Which is another terrific advantage. For the most part, deer avoid foraging on this tree, unless they are really, really hungry.
This could have something to do with the large thorns on the tree as well. The one above is a new thorn, but as they age, they harden into sharp, woody needles. I was on a job site at the zoo once and (not prepared, and wearing the wrong type of shoe) a needle went clear through the sole of my shoe and into my heel. It hurt. A lot.
Hawthorns are named as such because one definition of "haw" is "fruit". It can also mean hedge and in England Crataegus monogyna is often used as a hedge. Crataegus itself is derivative of the Greek work 'kratos' which means 'strength'. The origin refers to the hardness of hawthorn wood.