Hawthorn – 10 facts about one of our oldest plant companions

There is more violence in an English hedgerow than in the meanest streets of a great city.’ – P. D. James

Hawthorns, a group of woody plants found both in the New and Old World, do not have commercial value for their wood, but nonetheless have been significant culturally, socially, medicinally and politically – as well as in religion, natural history and agriculture. Often viewed as a humble hedgerow plant, the hawthorn has had a surprisingly far-reaching impact on the course of human history. This lyrical account – in the grand tradition of nature writing – sees journalist and graphic artist Bill Vaughn unearth surprising facts about the hawthorn through history. A new book for spring that promises to inform and inspire!

10 Facts About Hawthorn

  1. Hawthorns also go by the names thornapples, May-trees, and whitethorns.
  2. They belong to a genus of shrubs called the Crataegus, derived from the Greek word krátys meaning hard or strong.
  3. In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Draco Malfoy’s wand is made from hawthorn wood.
  4. The hawthorn was widely believed to possess supernatural powers up until the 19th century.
  5. In 1944 there was more than 1,500 square miles of hedgerows in Normandy, the hawthorns were so thick and dense that sharpened steel blades had to be welded to the front of almost 600 tanks.
  6. King of France, Charles the Bald, issued an edict in 864 complaining about the hawthorn hedges that his subjects were planting without his permission to form private fortifications and to close off land.
  7. Today it is illegal to plant a hawthorn that has not been grafted onto root stock that is resistant to fire blight disease. This disease kills the shoots of apples and pears and gives the plant the appearance of having been scorched by fire.
  8. In 1795, American president George Washington, tried and failed to plant holly and hawthorn hedges.
  9. The essence of hawthorn has been used to treat cardiovascular problems in the West for at least 500 years.
  10. Like a lot of other species of trees, Hawthorns are believed to be able to poison their neighbours with organic toxins called allelochemicals. This belief comes from the study named allelopathy, a fairly new and controversial field

Hawthorn: The Tree That Has Nourished, Healed, and Inspired Through the Ages by Bill Vaughn is available from Yale. 

Hawthorn by Bill Vaughn

Featured image courtesy of mikequozl via Flickr.

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