and tend to be oval in shape, with lobes at the sides and tapering bases. Bark on small
stems is smooth and gray, becoming scaly with age. The fruits, sometimes called haws,
are shaped just like tiny apples and are no more than an inch in diameter and usually
much less. They are available in all the colors that apples come in.
Plant reproduction is not always as simple as the birds-and-bees method we are
taught, and along with an estimated 400 other plant species, hawthorns indulge in
one of the many offbeat versions. When they are not off hybridizing, they frequently
engage in a reproductive method called apomixis. When this occurs, each seed produces a hawthorn that is an exact replica of the mother tree. The flowers do need to
be pollinated for seed to be set, but there is no fusion of male and female gametes.
The result is that, although there are a lot of hawthorn species, more often than not,
the children are the spitting image of their mothers. More normal reproduction does
The tallest hawthorns may grow to 30 feet and the hard, rot-resistant wood can be
used for fence posts and tool handles. The fine grained wood is said to be second best
to boxwood for wood engraving.
Like many trees, hawthorns do best in moist, loamy soil, but they also will grow in
heavy clays and wet areas. They tolerate air pollution and road salt. Fire blight, a deadly
bacterial disease, affects all members of the rose family, including the hawthorns. At
least 25 different species of caterpillars feed on hawthorn leaves, including the hawthorn underwing, striped hairstreak, and eastern tent caterpillar.
Some herbalists highly recommend a hawthorn preparation for treating cardiovascular disease and several other ailments. Around the world, various parts of the tree
are used medicinally and the fruits are eaten raw or cooked. All of these bright fruits
come from truly beautiful flowers. In spring, all members of the hawthorn tribe are
covered with showy white blossoms that last well over a week. They usually have an
unpleasant smell, but fortunately this seems to go unnoticed by the many insect pollinators that come for a visit.