April 23, 2017

All About the Thorn

Mabel Alexa Photo | Crataegus monogyna - Common hawthorn

Mabel Alexa Photo | Crataegus monogyna – Common hawthorn

Mabel Alexa Photo | Crataegus monogyna - Common hawthorn

Mabel Alexa Photo | Crataegus monogyna – Common hawthorn

The cascades of fruit in autumn might be a clue to how prolific the Crataegus species are. Pictured is what likely is a variety of C. monogyna, best known as common hawthorn. Native to Europe, northwestern Africa and western Asia, this species has been introduced around the world, where it often becomes an invasive weed, including here in the United States. This type of hawthorn is thorny and often employed as a hedge or fence. The name, in fact, covers all that from the thorns (it’s a member of the rose family) to the haw, which is an Old English term for hedge. The plant has centuries of history behind it: from medicine that today includes interest in cardiac fields; to foods such as jams, jellies, syrups and wine to flavoring for brandy; to fuel in the form of firewood. It also has some of the most legendary plants associated with it. In France, by the church at Saint Mars sur la Futaie in Mayenne is what is claimed to be the oldest tree of any species in the nation, dating back to the 3rd century. In England there was the Glastonbury Thorn, with legend stating it sprouted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea who thrust it into the ground during a visit in the 1st century A.D. The Glastonbury Thorn was unique because it blossomed twice a year. During the English Civil War in the 1640s, it was felled but has been propagated as ‘Biflora’ since then. East Anglia is home to the one of the oldest known hawthorns; in the village of Hethel in Norfolk is the Hethel Old Thorn, allegedly more than 700 years old from its planting in the 13th century.

This plant was photographed by Mabel Alexa in Argentina. She described the fruit as looking like mini-tomatoes. “Flowers are tiny and white,” she wrote, “but berries can vary from red, orange to yellow.”