Hawthorn (Crataegus, pronounced /krəˈtiːɡəs/) is a large genus of shrubs and trees in the rose family, Rosaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia and North America. It is the state flower of Missouri. The name hawthorn was originally applied to the species native to northern Europe, especially the Common Hawthorn C. monogyna, and the unmodified name is often so used in Britain and Ireland. However the name is now also applied to the entire genus, and also to the related Asian genus Rhaphiolepis.
They are shrubs or small trees, mostly growing to 5-15 m tall, with small pome fruit and (usually) thorny branches. The most common type of bark is smooth grey in young individuals, developing shallow longitudinal fissures with narrow ridges in older trees. The thorns are small sharp-tipped branches that arise either from other branches or from the trunk, and are typically 1-3 cm long (recorded as up to 11.5 cm in one casepage 97). The leaves grow spirally arranged on long shoots, and in clusters on spur shoots on the branches or twigs. The leaves of most species have lobed or serrate margins and are somewhat variable in shape. The fruit, sometimes known as a "haw", is berry-like, but structurally a pome containing from 1 to 5 pyrenes that resemble the "stones" of plums, peaches, etc. which are drupaceous fruit in the same subfamily.
Hawthorns provide food and shelter for many species of birds and mammals, and the flowers are important for many nectar-feeding insects. Hawthorns are also used as food plants by the larvae of a large number of Lepidoptera species. Haws are important for wildlife in winter, particularly thrushes and waxwings; these birds eat the haws and disperse the seeds in their droppings.
Many species and hybrids are used as ornamental and street trees. The Common Hawthorn is extensively used in Europe as a hedge plant. Several cultivars of the Midland Hawthorn C. laevigata have been selected for their pink or red flowers. Hawthorns are among the trees most recommended for water conservation landscapes.
The number of species in the genus depends on taxonomic interpretation. Some botanists in the past recognised a thousand or more species, many of which are apomictic microspecies. It is estimated that a reasonable number is 200 species, but it is not yet clear how many species should be recognized because "a large portion of the synonymy, especially in North American Crataegus, has not been worked out."
Some horticulturally important hybrids
The fruits of the species Crataegus pinnatifida (Chinese Hawthorn) are tart, bright red, and resemble small crabapple fruits. They are used to make many kinds of Chinese snacks, including haw flakes and tanghulu (糖葫芦). The fruits, which are called shānzhā (山楂) in Chinese, are also used to produce jams, jellies, juices, alcoholic beverages, and other drinks . In South Korea, a liquor called sansachun (산사춘) is made from the fruits.
The fruits of Crataegus pubescens are known in Mexico as tejocotes and are eaten raw, cooked, or in jam during the winter months. They are stuffed in the piñatas broken during the traditional pre-Christmas parties known as posadas. They are also cooked with other fruits to prepare a Christmas punch. The mixture of tejocote paste, sugar, and chili powder produces a popular Mexican candy called rielitos, which is manufactured by several brands.
In the southern United States fruits of three native species are collectively known as mayhaws and are made into jellies which are considered a great delicacy. In Canada, where hawthorns are strongly associated with the culture of Manitoulin Island, the fruits are commonly known as hawberries.
The leaves are edible and, if picked in the months of April and May, they are tender enough to be used in salads.
Hawthorn products have significant traditional medicinal uses. "Hawthorn leaf and flower extract monopreparations" have received endorsement in evidence-based medicine for treating chronic heart failure.
The dried fruits of Crataegus pinnatifida (called shān zhā in Chinese) are used in naturopathic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, primarily as a digestive aid. A closely related species, Crataegus cuneata (Japanese Hawthorn, called sanzashi in Japanese) is used in a similar manner. Other species (especially Crataegus laevigata) are used in Western herbal medicine, where the plant is believed to strengthen cardiovascular function. In recent years, this use has been noted and adopted by Chinese herbalists as well. Hawthorn is also used as an aid to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and treat some heart related diseases.
- Clinical trials
Several clinical trials have assessed the ability of hawthorn to help improve exercise tolerance in people with NYHA class II cardiac insufficiency compared to placebo. One trial, at (300 mg/day) for 4 to 8 weeks, found no difference from placebo. The second trial, including 78 subjects (600 mg/day) for 8 weeks, found "significant improvement in exercise tolerance" and lower blood pressure and heart rate during exercise. The third trial, including 32 subjects (900 mg/day) for 8 weeks, found improved exercise tolerance as well as a reduction in the "incidence and severity of symptoms such as dyspnea" and fatigue decreased by approximately 50%.
In the HERB-CHF (Hawthorn Extract Randomized Blinded Chronic HF Study) clinical trial, 120 patients took 450 mg of hawthorn extract twice daily for 6 months in combination with standard therapy and a standardized exercise program. "No effects of hawthorn were seen on either quality-of-life endpoint (Tables 1 and 2), or when adjusted for LVEF" .
One study, consisting of 1011 patients taking one tablet (standardized to 84.3 mg procyanidin) twice daily for 24 weeks, found "improvements in clinical symptoms (such as fatigue, palpitations, and exercise dyspnea), performance and exercise tolerance test, and ejection fraction".
- Side effects
Overdose can cause cardiac arrhythmia and dangerously lower blood pressure. Milder side effects include nausea and sedation.
The wood of some hawthorn species is very hard and resistant to rot. In rural North America it was prized for use as tool handles and fence posts.
Hawthorn can also be used as a rootstock in the practice of grafting. It is graft-compatible with medlar, and with pear, and makes a hardier rootstock than quince, but the thorny suckering habit of the hawthorn can be problematic.
Seedlings of Crataegus monogyna, have been used to graft multiple species on the same trunk, such as Pink hawthorn, pear tree and medlar tree, the result being trees which give pink and white flowers in May and fruits during the summer. "Chip budding" has also been performed on hawthorn trunks in order to have several branches of several varieties on the same tree. Such trees can be seen in Vigo, Spain and in the north west of France (mainly in Britanny).
The custom of employing the flowering branches for decorative purposes on the 1st of May is of very early origin; but since the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the tree has rarely been in full bloom in England before the second week of that month. In the Scottish Highlands the flowers may be seen as late as the middle of June. The saying "Ne'er cast a cloot til Mey's oot" conveys a warning not to shed any cloots (clothes) before the summer has fully arrived and the may flowers (hawthorn blossoms) are in full bloom.
The hawthorn has been regarded as the emblem of hope, and its branches are stated to have been carried by the ancient Greeks in wedding processions, and to have been used by them to deck the altar of Hymenaios. The supposition that the tree was the source of Jesus's crown of thorns gave rise doubtless to the tradition current (as of 1911[update]) among the French peasantry that it utters groans and cries on Good Friday, and probably also to the old popular superstition in Great Britain and Ireland that ill-luck attended the uprooting of hawthorns. Branches of Glastonbury Thorn, C. Oxyacantha var. praecox, which flowers both in December and in spring, were formerly highly valued in England, on account of the legend that the tree was originally the staff of Joseph of Arimathea.
In Celtic lore, the hawthorn plant was used commonly for rune inscriptions along with Yew and Apple. It was once said to heal the broken heart. In Ireland, the red fruit is, or was in living memory, called the Johnny MacGorey or Magory.
Serbian and Croatian folklore notes hawthorn (Serbian глог / glog, Croatian glog) is particularly deadly to vampires, and stakes used for their slaying must be made from the wood of the thorn tree.
In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn (in Scottish Gaelic, Sgitheach and in Irish, sceach) 'marks the entrance to the otherworld' and is strongly associated with the fairies. Lore has it that it is very unlucky to cut the tree at any time other than when it is in bloom, however during this time it is commonly cut and decorated as a May Bush (see Beltane). This warning persists to modern times; it has been questioned by folklorist Bob Curran whether the ill luck of the De Lorean Motor Company was associated with the destruction of a fairy thorn to make way for a production facility.
Hawthorn trees are often found beside clootie wells; at these types of holy wells they are sometimes known as 'rag trees', for the strips of cloth which are tied to them as part of healing rituals. 'When all fruit fails, welcome haws' was once a common expression in Ireland.
Spring flowers, probably of the hybrid C. laevigata x monogyna
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