Fruit of four different species of Crataegus (clockwise from top left: C. coccinea, C. punctata, C. ambigua and C. douglasii)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Subfamily: Amygdaloideae[1]
Tribe: Maleae
Subtribe: Malinae
Genus: Crataegus
Tourn. ex L.
Type species
Crataegus rhipidophylla [2]

Crataegus (/krəˈtɡəs/),[3] (from the Greek κράτος kratos strength and άκης akis sharp, referring to the thorns of some species[4]) commonly called hawthorn, thornapple,[5] May-tree,[6] whitethorn,[6] or hawberry, is a large genus of shrubs and trees in the family Rosaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia and North America. 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. The name is now also applied to the entire genus and to the related Asian genus Rhaphiolepis. The name haw, originally an Old English term for hedge, applies to the fruit.[7]


Close-up of the flowers of C. monogyna

Crataegus species are shrubs or small trees, mostly growing to 5–15 metres (16–49 ft) tall,[7] 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 centimetres (4.5 in) in one case[7]). 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; see List of Lepidoptera that feed on hawthorns. Haws are important for wildlife in winter, particularly thrushes and waxwings; these birds eat the haws and disperse the seeds in their droppings.


Culinary use

The "haws" or fruits of the common hawthorn, C. monogyna, are edible but the flavour has been compared to over-ripe apples. In the United Kingdom, they are sometimes used to make a jelly or homemade wine.[8] The leaves are edible and, if picked in spring when still young, are tender enough to be used in salads.[9] The young leaves and flower buds, which are also edible, are known as "bread and cheese" in rural England.[8]

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 () 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 mexicana 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 celebration known as Las 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. The Kutenai people of northwestern North America used red and black hawthorn fruit for food.[10]

On Manitoulin Island in Canada, some red-fruited species are called hawberries. They are common there thanks to the island's alkaline soil. During the pioneer days, white settlers ate these fruits during the winter as the only remaining food supply. People born on the island are now called "haweaters". In Iran, the fruits of Crataegus (including Crataegus azarolus var. aronia, as well as other species) are known as zalzalak and are eaten raw as a snack, or made into a jam known by the same name.

Crataegus monogyna 'Crimson Cloud' in Elko Nevada


A 2008 Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis of previous studies concluded that there is evidence of "a significant benefit in symptom control and physiologic outcomes" for an extract of hawthorn in treating chronic heart failure.[11] A 2010 review[12] concluded that "Crataegus [hawthorn] preparations hold significant potential as a useful remedy in the treatment of cardiovascular disease (CVD)". The review indicated the need for further study of the best dosages and concluded that although "many different theoretical interactions between Crataegus and orthodox medications have been postulated ... none have [yet] been substantiated.[12]

Several earlier pilot studies assessed the ability of hawthorn to help improve exercise tolerance in people with NYHA class II cardiac insufficiency compared to placebo. One experiment, at (300 mg/day) for 4 to 8 weeks, found no difference from placebo. The second study, 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, 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%.[13]

In the 2004 HERB-CHF (Hawthorn Extract Randomized Blinded Chronic HF Study) clinical study, 120 patients took 450 mg of hawthorn extract twice daily for six 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".[14]

One research program, consisting of 1,011 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".[15]

Phytochemicals found in hawthorn include tannins, flavonoids, oligomeric proanthocyanidins and phenolic acids.[16]

Traditional medicine

Several species of hawthorn have been used in traditional medicine. The products used are often derived from C. monogyna, C. laevigata, or related Crataegus species, "collectively known as hawthorn",[13] not necessarily distinguishing between these species.[7] The dried fruits of Crataegus pinnatifida (called shān zhā in Chinese) are used in 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 herbal medicine where the plant is believed to strengthen cardiovascular function.[17]

The Kutenai people of northwestern North America used black hawthorn fruit (Kutenai language: kaǂa; approximate pronunciation: kasha) for food,[10] and red hawthorn fruit (Kutenai language: ǂupǂi; approximate pronunciation: shupshi) in traditional medicine.[18]

Side effects

Overdose can cause cardiac arrhythmia and dangerously low blood pressure. Milder side effects include nausea and sedation.[19] Patients taking digoxin should avoid taking hawthorn.[20][21]


Many species and hybrids are used as ornamental and street trees. The common hawthorn is extensively used in Europe as a hedge plant. During the British Agricultural Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, hawthorn saplings were mass propagated in nurseries to create the new field boundaries required by the Inclosure Acts.[22] 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.


Hawthorn rootstock on a medlar tree in Totnes, United Kingdom.

Hawthorn can be used as a rootstock in the practice of grafting. It is graft-compatible with Mespilus (medlar), and with pear, and makes a hardier rootstock than quince, but the thorny suckering habit of the hawthorn can be problematic.[7]

Seedlings of Crataegus monogyna have been used to graft multiple species on the same trunk, such as Pink hawthorn, pear tree and medlar, 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 branches of several varieties on the same tree. Such trees can be seen in Vigo, Spain, and in the northwest of France (mainly in Brittany).


Many species of Hawthorn make excellent bonsai trees.[23] They are grown and enjoyed for their display of flowers.

Other uses

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. The wood being hard it is described by Johns as the best substitute for boxwood for wood engraving.


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.[24][25]

[26] The custom of employing the flowering branches for decorative purposes on 1 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 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 doubtless gave rise around 1911 to the tradition 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. monogyna 'Biflora',[7] sometimes called 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.

Robert Graves, in his book The White Goddess,[6] traces and reinterprets many European legends in which the whitethorn (hawthorn), also called the May-tree, is central.

Hawthorn trees demarcate a garden plot. According to legend, they are strongly associated with the fairies.

In Celtic lore, the hawthorn plant was used commonly for 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.[27] 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).[28] 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.[29]

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.[30] 'When all fruit fails, welcome haws' was once a common expression in Ireland.

According to a Medieval legend, the Glastonbury Thorn, Crataegus monogyna 'Biflora', which flowers twice annually, was supposed to have miraculously grown from a walking stick planted by Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury in Somerset, England. The original tree was destroyed in the 16th century during the English Reformation, but several cultivars have survived. Since the reign of King James I, it has been a Christmas custom to send a sprig of Glastonbury Thorn flowers to the Sovereign, which is used to decorate the Royal Family's dinner table.[31]

In the Victorian era, the Hawthorn represented hope in the language of flowers.[32]

The hawthorn – species unspecified[33] – is the state flower of Missouri. The legislation designating it as such was introduced by Sarah Lucille Turner, one of the first two women to serve in the Missouri House of Representatives.[34]


Although it is commonly stated that hawthorns can be propagated by cutting, this is difficult to achieve with rootless stem pieces. Small plants or suckers are often transplanted from the wild. Seeds require stratification and take one or two years to germinate.[35] Seed germination is improved if the pyrenes that contain the seed are subjected to extensive drying at room temperature, before stratification.[36] Uncommon forms can be grafted onto seedlings of other species.[35]


The number of species in the genus depends on taxonomic interpretation. Some botanists in the past recognised a thousand or more species,[37] many of which are apomictic microspecies. It is estimated that a reasonable number is 200 species.[7]

The genus is classified into sections which are further subdivided into series.[38][39] Series Montaninsulae has not yet been assigned to a section.[39][40][41] The sections are:

Selected species

Selected hybrids


  1. Potter, D., et al. (2007). Phylogeny and classification of Rosaceae. Plant Systematics and Evolution. 266(1–2): 5–43. [Referring to the subfamily by the name "Spiraeoideae"]
  2. J. B. Phipps (1997). Monograph of northern Mexican Crataegus (Rosaceae, subfam. Maloideae). Sida, Botanical Miscellany. 15. Botanical Research Institute of Texas. p. 12. ISBN 9781889878294.
  3. Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  4. Phipps, J.B. (2015), "Crataegus", in L. Brouillet; K. Gandhi; C.L. Howard; H. Jeude; R.W. Kiger; J.B. Phipps; A.C. Pryor; H.H. Schmidt; J.L. Strother; J.L. Zarucchi, Flora of North America North of Mexico, Volume 9: Magnoliophyta: Picramniaceae to Rosaceae, New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 491–643, ISBN 978-0-19-534029-7 p. 491
  5. Voss, E.G. 1985. Michigan Flora: A guide to the identification and occurrence of the native and naturalized seed-plants of the state. Part II: Dicots (Saururaceae–Cornaceae). Cranbrook Institute of Science and University of Michigan Herbarium, Ann Arbor, Michigan, US.
  6. 1 2 3 Graves, Robert. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, 1948, amended and enlarged 1966, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Phipps, J.B., O'Kennon, R.J., Lance, R.W. (2003). Hawthorns and medlars. Royal Horticultural Society, Cambridge, U.K.
  8. 1 2 [Wright, John (2010), Hedgerow: River Cottage Handbook Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, ISBN 978-1-4088-0185-7 (pp. 73–74)
  9. Richard Mabey, Food for Free, Collins, October 2001.
  10. 1 2 "FirstVoices- Ktunaxa. Plants: food plants: words.". Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  11. Pittler MH, Guo R, Ernst E (2008). Guo, Ruoling, ed. "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews". Cochrane Database Syst Rev. Jan 23 (1): CD005312. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005312.pub2. PMID 18254076. |chapter= ignored (help)
  12. 1 2 Tassell, M.; Kingston, R.; Gilroy, D.; Lehane, M.; Furey, A. (2010). Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Pharmacognosy Review. 4(7): 32–41.
  13. 1 2 Harry Fong & Jerry Bauman 2002. Alternative Medicines for Cardiovascular Diseases—Hawthorn, Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing 16(4):1–8.
  14. Aaronson K: HERB-CHF: Hawthorn Extract Randomized Blinded Chronic Heart Failure Trial. In, 2004
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  21. Tankenow Roberta; Tamer Helen R.; Streetman Daniel S.; Smith Scott G.; Welton Janice L.; Annesley Thomas; Aaronson Keith D.; Bleske Barry E. (2003). "Interaction Study between Digoxin and a Preparation of Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha)" (PDF). J Clin Pharmacol. 43: 637–642.
  22. Williamson, Tom (2013), An Environmental History of Wildlife in England 1650 – 1950 Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN 978-1-4411-0863-0 (p. 104)
  23. "Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) progression". Bonsai Empire. 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  24. "Scuil Wab: Wird O The Month – Mey". Scottish Language Dictionaries. 2003. Archived from the original on 2008-06-04. Retrieved 2008-05-28.
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  26. "Hawthorn". Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition. 1911. pp. 101–102.
  27. Campbell, John Gregorson (1900, 1902, 2005) The Gaelic Otherworld. Edited by Ronald Black. Edinburgh, Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1-84158-207-7 p.345
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  29. Monaghan, Patricia (2004-03-11). The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit. New World Library. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-57731-458-5.
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  38. Phipps, J.B.; Robertson, K.R.; Smith, P.G.; Rohrer, J.R. (1990), "A checklist of the subfamily Maloideae (Rosaceae)", Canadian Journal of Botany, 68 (10): 2209–2269, doi:10.1139/b90-288
  39. 1 2 Phipps, J.B. (2015), "Crataegus", in L. Brouillet; K. Gandhi; C.L. Howard; H. Jeude; R.W. Kiger; J.B. Phipps; A.C. Pryor; H.H. Schmidt; J.L. Strother; J.L. Zarucchi, Flora of North America North of Mexico, Volume 9: Magnoliophyta: Picramniaceae to Rosaceae, New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 491–643, ISBN 978-0-19-534029-7
  40. Crataegus Linnaeus (sect. Coccineae) ser. Punctatae (Loudon) Rehder, Man. Cult. Trees ed. 2. 365. 1940
  41. Crataegus Linnaeus (sect. Coccineae) ser. Parvifoliae (Loudon) Rehder, Man. Cult. Trees ed. 2. 366. 1940
  42. Crataegus brachyacantha Sarg. & Engelm. BLUEBERRY HAWTHORN, Discover Life
  43. Crataegus brachyacantha Sarg. & Engelm. Show All blueberry hawthorn, USDA
  44. "Missouri State Flower". Retrieved 12 September 2015.
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