HAWTHORN (Crataegus monogyna)

Hawthorn berries (haws) in November

Hawthorn blossom in May

Gives not the hawthorn-bush a sweeter shade
To shepherds looking on their silly sheep,
Than doth a rich embroider'd canopy
To kings that fear their subjects' treachery?*

Also known as May (because of the period of its flowering) or Quickthorn (because of the readiness of its cuttings to strike root), hawthorn was historically a tree of ungrazed open spaces such as commons or heaths, but its status changed dramatically when it became the basis of the 200,000 (or so) miles of hedges planted during the parliamentary enclosures of the 18th and 19th centuries. It has given rise to much folklore. "Cast ne'er a clout ere May is out" probably refers to its blossom, not the month. Superstition holds that it is unlucky, perhaps even to portend death, to bring its flowers, with their aroma of decay, into the house (its near relative, the Woodland, or Midland Hawthorn , has an even more unpleasant smell). The famous winter flowering Glastonbury thorn is a ‘sport' of the common species; its connection with Joseph of Arimathea and Christ's crown of thorns is of very questionable authenticity.

The creamy white flowers are usually at their best in the second half of May, although the date of first flowering varies according to height above sea-level, soil, weather and other factors - in some areas it is as late as early July. The berries (haws) are not poisonous, nor are they tasty to humans. They are however important food for birds such as the winter thrushes (fieldfare, redwing) where the hedges have not been hard trimmed in early autumn.

The photographs were taken along the hedge which follows the boundary between Sulgrave and Greatworth parishes. This, double along much of its length, long pre-dates the enclosures. By "Hooper's rule", which assesses the rough age of a hedge based on the average number of different species of tree or shrub in each of a series of 30-metre stretches, this hedge is between 400 and 500 years old. To stroll along the public footpath which follows the full length of the hedge from the Stutchbury corner to the Greatworth road (between Points A and B on the attached map), on one side or the other, makes a very pleasant outing. The autumn colours of this hedgerow make it particularly attractive at the moment, especially first thing in the morning if the sun is shining.

*William Shakespeare's play King Henry VI, Part III, Act II, Scene V

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service.
Image reproduced by kind permission of Ordnance Survey
and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Notes by George Metcalfe. Photos by Colin Wootton.