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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > The Hawthorns

The Hawthorns

(Crataegus L.)

  Hawthorns, or thornapples, represent many different species and varieties distributed over the state. Even experts have difficulty in distinguishing between the many species of hawthorns. The various species are all shrubs or small trees that grow throughout the state, from the low swamps and river bottoms of the east to the high mountain ridges of the west. Most hawthorns have long, straight thorns and bear white blossoms and red or yellow fruit. Some species are planted as ornamental trees, but otherwise the group has little commercial value. The bark generally is thin and gray. On the old stems, it breaks up into thin, narrow scales.

Hawthorn leaves are simple, alternate, mostly oval or wedge shaped, notched on the edges and are usually from 2 to 3 inches long. Hawthorn flowers are white. Some have a pleasant scent, and others have a slightly unpleasant odor. They appear in early spring.

The fruit varies from globular to oblong, from 1/4 to 3/4 inch in diameter. Some have a pulpy, sweet, edible flesh that surrounds from one to five bony seeds. The fruit of most hawthorn species ripens in the fall, and one or two varieties yield a fruit that is prized for making jelly.

The wood is strong, tough, heavy and hard but rarely is used for any purpose. Many species of birds are attracted to these trees and bushes, largely because of the fruit and the protection offered for nesting.
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