Our Plant Pick this month is the Hawthorn tree, an ancient plant in the Rose family with all-season interest. Persistent fruit, colorful fall foliage, lightly exfoliating bark, and reddish winter twigs make it an appealing choice. In New England, Crataegus crus-galli, our native hawthorn has large thorns and is commonly called Cockspur. This plant is probably best-sited away from heavily trafficked areas such as a foundation planting or walkway, and in a spot where it can be the starting point for a native plant garden. Since it offers shelter, nesting, and winter food for birds, site it on the outskirts where it is still visible from a window or two. A hawthorn is also a wonderful plant for pollinating insects, with white blossoms in May. This is a small-stature tree, maturing at about 20’ x 20.’
A thornless selection exists – read all about it here:
One traditional use of a hawthorn tree is in hedgerows to enclose animals and exclude their predators. Deer and rabbits will give it a wide berth because of the thorns! A bonus is its drought tolerance. It has also had various medicinal uses over the centuries.
Be sure to select a specimen for strong disease resistance: The thornless variety, Crateaegus crus-galli var. inermis ‘Crusader,’ will meet this criterion and is reputed to avoid many of the pests and diseases that plague the Rose family.
Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’ is a good disease-resistant choice. This plant is native to the Southeast. In any event, avoid planting hawthorn and eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana, or Chinese juniper varieties within several miles of each other to avoid the spread of Cedar apple rust.