Hawthorn Hedging – Crataegus monogyna
Crataegus monogyna, commonly known as Hawthorn or May-Tree, is an indigenous British tree known for its robust nature and versatility, particularly as a hedging plant. A defining feature of the English countryside, it differs from many other trees due to its spiny branches, dense growth habit, and impressive longevity, with some known to survive for several centuries.
Description and Characteristics
Hawthorn is famed for its abundance of white or pinkish flowers that bloom in late spring (often May, hence the name May-Tree). The flowers are followed by small, shiny, deep red berries known as haws in autumn. Its dense, spreading growth, combined with its spiny branches, makes it an excellent choice for secure and wildlife-friendly hedging.
As a hedging plant, Hawthorn typically reaches a height of about 1-2 metres (3-6 feet) if regularly pruned. However, when left to grow freely as a tree, it can reach up to 15 metres (about 50 feet) with a similar spread, and can live for up to 400 years. Its growth rate is considered medium-fast, with an average of 40-60cm (15-24 inches) per year.
Flowering, Berries, and Reproduction
Crataegus monogyna produces clusters of small, fragrant, white or slightly pink flowers, each with five petals, which bloom in late spring. These flowers are hermaphroditic, meaning each flower contains both male and female reproductive structures, and are mainly pollinated by midges and other insects.
The flowers give way to the haws, which are deep red berries about 1cm in diameter. Each haw contains one or two seeds, and they are primarily dispersed by birds, which eat the haws and excrete the seeds.
Benefits to Wildlife
Hawthorn is a veritable wildlife haven. Its dense, thorny structure provides excellent nesting and roosting sites for birds, and its flowers are an abundant nectar source for bees and other insects. The haws provide an essential food source for many birds and small mammals during the winter months.
Ideal for British Gardens
In a British garden, Hawthorn hedging provides year-round interest – fresh green leaves in spring, abundant white blossoms in late spring, dense green foliage in summer, deep red berries in autumn, and an intricate network of thorny branches in winter. Its hardy nature and ability to tolerate a wide range of soils and conditions make it an ideal choice for many gardeners.
As a hedge, Hawthorn provides a dense, impenetrable barrier, excellent for privacy and security. Its traditional association with the British countryside also adds a touch of nostalgia and can help a garden blend with the surrounding landscape.
Distribution in the UK
Hawthorn is common throughout the UK. It is one of the primary components of hedgerows in rural areas, and is a common sight in woodlands, scrubland, and on chalky hillsides. It is especially prevalent in England and Wales.
In summary, Hawthorn is more than just a hedge. It’s a British icon, a protector of wildlife, a beacon of the changing seasons, and a testament to the resilience and enduring charm of nature.