There are many different varieties and types of hawthorn trees to choose from. Discover nine of our favourite hawthorn species for the home garden, including common hawthorn, English hawthorn, Chinese hawthorn and more.
Both native and naturalised species of hawthorn are found in the UK. They are often grown as hedge plants and serve as shelter for birds. Read on to find out about the growth habits, location requirements, harvest times and uses of these nine hawthorn species.
- Hawthorn species
- Common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
- English hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)
- Large-sepalled Hawthorn (Crataegus rhipidophylla)
- Broad-leaved cockspur thorn (Crataegus x prunifolia)
- Cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli)
- Scarlet hawthorn (Crataegus coccinea)
- Lavalle hawthorn (Crataegus x lavallei ‘Carrierei’)
- Azarole (Crataegus azarolus)
- Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida)
The hawthorn genus (Crataegus) is extremely diverse and all of the species provide nectar and nutritious fruits for insects, birds and mammals, earning a place in every garden. Learn more about each species and their requirements with regard to location and maintenance below.
Common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
The common hawthorn is native to the UK, and it is found from Europe to Western Asia and North Africa. An undemanding large shrub or small tree, it is found along forest edges, stony slopes, and among underbrush and copses.
Common hawthorns tolerate heat, drought, wind, frost and lean soils. However, they prefer a sunny location with calcareous, medium-heavy, deep and nutrient-rich soils.
Common hawthorn leaves are dark green, ovoid and deeply lobed and turn yellow to deep red in autumn. These trees produce umbrella-shaped panicles with numerous flowers that bloom from May to June, attracting various pollinators. As each flower has one pistil, each fruit produces only one seed. The small red, apple-like fruits ripen from September to October. The fruits taste sweet and tart when raw, but they are ultimately mealy and bland and typically not eaten directly from the plant. That said, they are suitable for adding to low-pectin fruit when making jam where their high pectin content acts as a gelling agent. In times of need, dried and ground common hawthorn fruits can be used as a flour substitute for baking bread. In medicine, the leaves and fruits can help to lower blood pressure and strengthen circulation. The best-known common hawthorn variety is the 6m tall and 3m wide Crataegus monogyna ‘Stricta’.
English hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)
English hawthorn is widespread and native from Europe to North Africa. It is found along forest edges, in shrub lands and in uncultivated open spaces. It prefers warmer, moister and more nutrient-rich locations than Crataegus monogyna. English hawthorn thrives in partial shade, is quite hardy and is highly tolerant of wind and damage from cuts. It typically grows 2 to 6m tall and wide.
Its ovate leaves are deeply lobed, and it begins flowering in May, about 2 weeks earlier than common hawthorn. English hawthorn flowers usually have two pistils and therefore also two seeds in each fruit. The fruits are elongated, about 1cm long and deep red. They can be harvested starting in September just like common hawthorn fruits. Some well-known ornamental English hawthorn hybrids are the pink-flowered ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ and the mildew-resistant ‘Autumn Glory’.
Large-sepalled Hawthorn (Crataegus rhipidophylla)
The large-sepalled hawthorn is a hawthorn species native to Central Europe. It is found throughout the low mountain ranges and lowlands of the temperate climate zone.
Of all the hawthorns, large-sepalled hawthorns are the most shade tolerant and thrive in hedgerows and sparse deciduous woodlands. Their ideal location is sunny to shady on medium-heavy, deep and well-drained soils with neutral to high pH levels. The leaves are notched, finely serrated and grow up to 5cm long. In June, the umbrella-shaped panicles fill with large white flowers and emit a sweet fragrance. From August to September, the deep red apple-like fruits ripen and serve as bird food. Large-sepalled hawthorn fruits taste sweet and sour when raw, and their yellow flesh has a floury texture.
Broad-leaved cockspur thorn (Crataegus x prunifolia)
Broad-leaved cockspur thorn likely originated from a cross between cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli) and North American long-thorned hawthorn (Crataegus succulenta var. macrantha). Broad-leaved cockspur thorns have been popular in urban settings such as in parks or along streets for centuries.
This frost and heat tolerant species prefers sunny sites with loamy soils. This shrub is rather tree-like at 5 to 6m tall and 4 to 5m wide. Its branches are heavily thorned, and its foliage is glossy green, turning red-orange in autumn. Broad-leaved cockspur thorns flower from May to June. Abundant with small fruits, this hawthorn is terrific for nourishing local birds. The best-known variety, with a strong, upright growth habit and straight trunk, is Crataegus x prunifolia ‘Splendens’.
Cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli)
The cockspur hawthorn is native to the north east of North America, where it is found in meadows and along forest edges. It thrives in dry to moist, nutrient-rich, well-drained soils. This species is known for being adaptable and tolerates wind, frost and saline soils near coasts.
Cockspur hawthorns grow as large shrubs or small trees and generally grow 5 to 7m tall. In solitary locations, cockspur hawthorns often become wider than they are tall. The densely growing branches have slender spines up to 8cm long and toothed leaves that turn yellow, orange and bronze in autumn. The white-flowered panicles grow about 10cm tall and bloom from May to June. In places with mild winters, the numerous dark red, round fruits often remain on the bush into spring.
Scarlet hawthorn (Crataegus coccinea)
Scarlet hawthorn is native to eastern North America. It prefers sunny sites on medium to light, dry to wet soils. Scarlet thorn is adaptable to the pH levels in its soil, but it does best in neutral to alkaline soils.
This multi-stemmed, frost-hardy and wind-resistant shrub grows 5 to 7m tall and 3 to 4m wide. Scarlet hawthorn’s thorns, which birds take advantage of to protect their nests from predators, are hard, sharp and stretch up to 5cm long. The leaves of this species are broad, elliptical and double serrated. The numerous white flowers with striking pink stamens appear in May. After pollination, the bright red fruits form, becoming up to 2cm thick. The magnificent autumn colour appears later in the year in bright hues of orange and yellow.
Lavalle hawthorn (Crataegus x lavallei ‘Carrierei’)
Lavalle hawthorn originated around 1870 as a result of crossing the cockspur hawthorn with the Mexican hawthorn (Crataegus mexicana f. stipulata) in the Segrez Arboretum in France. The ideal site for this hawthorn cross is in medium to light, dry to fresh soils. Lavalle hawthorn tolerates pH values ranging from neutral to strongly alkaline.
This hardy species is tolerant of heat, drought and frost. Grown as a small tree or large shrub, it reaches 7m or taller. Older Lavalle hawthorns can become almost twice as wide as they are tall. The 5 to 15cm long, toothed leaves remain on the tree until December. In May, the numerous white to pink flowers bloom from umbrella-shaped panicles. The bright decorative orange-red speckled fruits remain attached until January and serve as a food source for native fauna.
Azarole (Crataegus azarolus)
The azarole is native to Western Asia and North Africa and is cultivated throughout the Mediterranean for its large, tasty fruits. Hence, it is also known as the Mediterranean medlar. In bygone days, the azarole could be found north of the Alps, where it grew as a wild fruit tree hardy to temperatures as low as -23°C. Nowadays, it has almost completely disappeared from these northern regions. Azaroles prefer sunny to semi-shady sites in fresh to moist, nutrient-rich and sandy loam soil.
This species is also grown as a small tree or large shrub at 5 to 8m tall. Azarole leaves are strongly pinnate and their flowers bloom from June to July. The fruits are round to pear-shaped, 2 to 3cm large and range from red to light yellow. Packed with vitamin C and with an apple-like aromatic taste, azarole fruits can be eaten raw, added to baked goods, or made into jams or compotes.
Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida)
Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida), also known as mountain hawthorn, has been cultivated from China to East Asia for about 2000 years. This hawthorn prefers sunny to partial shade locations in fresh to moist, sandy loamy soils. This small tree, hardy to -23 °C, reaches 4 to 7m metres tall.
Mountain hawthorn’s dark green leaves grow on long stalks and are deeply lobed. This species blooms from May to June, and in autumn it forms fruits up to 3cm large. The fruits are round and blood red in colour. As they have a sour and floury taste, mountain hawthorn fruits are mainly candied or processed into jelly, chewy sweets, juice and wine. In folk medicine, the dried fruits are used to relieve indigestion.