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Orchard Trees - Hawthorns

( Originally Published 1927 )

In the same rose family with apples, plums, cherries, and service-berries is listed the genus Crataegus, a shrubby race of trees, undersized as a rule, with stiff, zigzag branches set with thorns. Over one hundred species have been described by Charles Sargent in his "Manual of Trees of North America," published in 1905.

The centre of distribution for the hawthorn is undoubtedly the eastern United States. From Newfoundland the woods are full of them. A few species belong to the Rocky Mountain region, a few to the states farther west. Europe and Asia each has a few native hawthorns.

The English Hawthorn

Crataegus oxyacantha, Linn.

The English hawthorn is the best-known species in the world. When it first came into cultivation, no man knows. Englishmen will tell you it has always formed the hedge-rows of the countryside. This is the "blossoming May." The sweetness of its flowers, snowy white, or pink, or rose-colored, turns rural England into a garden, while linnets and skylarks fill the green lanes with music.

American "forests primeval" were swept with the woodman's axe before the hawthorns had their chance to assert themselves sufficiently to attract the attention of botanists and horticulturists. The showy flowers and fruits, the vivid coloring of autumn foliage, and the striking picturesqueness of the bare tree, with its rigid branches armed with menacing thorns, give most of these little trees attractiveness at any season. They grow in any soil and in any situation, and show the most remarkable improvement when cultivated. Their roots thrive in heavy clay. When young the little trees may be easily transplanted from the wild. They come readily from seed, though in most species the seed takes two years to germinate.

With few exceptions, the flowers of our hawthrons are pure white, perfect, their parts in multiples of five—a family trait. Each flower is a miniature white rose. Rounded corymbs of these flowers on short side twigs cover the tree with a robe of white after the leaves appear. In autumn little fleshy, fruits that look like apples, cluster an the twigs. Inside the thick skin, the flesh is mealy and sweetish around a few hard nutlets that contain the seed. As a rule, the fruits are red. In a few species they are orange; in still fewer, yellow, blue, or black.

It is not practicable to describe the many varieties of our native hawthorns in a volume of the scope of this one. A few of the most distinctive species only can be included, but no one will ever confuse a hawthorn with any other tree.

The Cockspur Thorn

C. Crus-galli, Linn,

The cockspur thorn is a small, handsome tree, fifteen to twenty feet high, with stiff branches in a broad round head. The thorns on the sides of the twig are three to four inches long, sometimes when old becoming branched, and reaching a length of six or eight inches. Stout and brown or gray, they often curve, striking downward as a rule, on the horizontal branches. The leaves, thick, leathery, lustrous, dark green above, pale beneath, one to four inches long, taper to a short stout stalk, seeming to stand on tiptoe, as if to keep out of the way of the thorns. From the ground up, the tree is clothed in bark that is bright and polished, shading from reddish brown to gray. The flowers come late, in showy clusters; and the fruit gleams red against the reddening leaves. As winter comes on the leaves fall and the branches are brightened by the fruit clusters which are not taken by the birds (see illustration, page 167). All the year long the cockspur thorn is a beautiful, ornamental tree and a competent hedge plant, popular alike in Europe and America.

The Scarlet Haw

C. pruinosa, K. Koch.

The scarlet haw found from Vermont to Georgia, and west to Missouri, prefers limestone soil of mountain slopes, and is more picturesque than beautiful. The foliage is distinctive; it is dark, blue-green, smooth, and leathery, pale beneath, and turns in autumn to brilliant orange. In summer the pale fruit wears a pale bloom but at maturity it is dark purplish red and shiny.

The Red Haw

C. mollis, Scheele

The red haw is the type of a large group, ample in size, fine in form and coloring, of fruit and foliage. This tree reaches forty feet in height, its round head rising above the tall trunk, with stout branchlets and stubby, shiny thorns.

The twigs are coated with pale hairs, the young leaves, and ultimately the leaf-linings and petioles are hairy, and the fruits are downy, marked with dark dots.

The only fault the landscape gardener can find with this red haw, is that its abundant fruit, ripe in late summer, falls in September. The species is found from Ohio to Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.

The Scarlet Haw

C. coccinea, Linn.

The scarlet haw, native of the Northeastern states, is one of the oldest native thorns in cultivation. It is a favorite in New England gardens, because of its abundant bloom, deep crimson fruit and vivid autumn foliage. It is a shrubby, round-headed tree, with stout ascending branches, set with thorns an inch or more in length.

The Black Haw

C. Douglasii, Lindl.

In the West the black haw is a round-headed, native tree found from Puget Sound southward through California and eastward to Colorado and New Mexico. It is a round-headed tree reaching forty feet in height, in moist soil. Its distinguishing feature is the black fruit, ripe in August and September, lustrous, thin-fleshed, sweet, one-half an inch long. The thorns are stout and sharp, rarely exceeding one inch in length. The leathery dark-green leaves, one to four inches long, commend this black-fruited thorn of the West to the Eastern horticulturists. It has proved hardy in gardens to the Atlantic seaboard and in Nova Scotia.

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