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Washington hawthorn--a deciduous, oval-shaped, 25-30’ ornamental tree--is a lovely successor to spring-flowering trees.  After reddish-purple leaves unfurl in spring, fragrant white flowers bloom in early summer, followed by shiny red berries that persist into winter. In summer, the leaves are a beautiful glossy green, turning orange/scarlet/purple hues in autumn. Offering superb wildlife value, hawthorn is a host plant for over 100 Lepidoptera larvae, providing early-summer nectar for hummingbirds and bees and bearing fruit that is an important survival food for birds and mammals throughout winter. A relative of the apple tree, hawthorn shows good resistance to cedar-apple rust.  When grown from seed, it bears fruit in 5-8 years.  If grown from a grafted tree, fruit appears in 3 years.  


The common name comes from the tree’s origin, Washington D.C., and the large thorns that develop on the branches.  The dense foliage and thorns may be pruned into an effective security screen.


Native habitats include pastures, rocky open woodlands and bluffs, stream banks, thickets, edges of woods, and low swamps. It’s an ideal tree for streets and cities because it tolerates urban pollution.  It may also be used as a hedge, part of a border, in small groups, as a specimen or small shade tree, and in pollinator and native gardens.  


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 25-30’ tall and slightly less wide.


Prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade with decreased flowering and fruiting.


Prefers moist, well-drained loam, but tolerates acidic, alkaline, sandy, wet (not standing water), and clay soils. Drought tolerant once established.


Small, apple-like blossoms emerge in flat flower clusters in May and early June, followed by ¼” bright red berries.


Triangular-ovate leaves are up to 3" long with 3–5 lobes and serrated margins. 


Often multi-trunked with brown or gray bark that peels and develops rounded plates as it ages.  Thin brown stems have zig-zag form and 1-3" thorns. 


Wildlife Value:  

Host plant to 154 Lepidoptera larvae, including Abbott's sphinx, funerary dagger, and interrupted dagger moths.  Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees visit for nectar, while cedar waxwings, quail, wild turkeys, and small mammals consume the fruits.  The thorns and dense habit provide important thicket cover for wildlife and nesting sites for birds. Deer avoid the plant.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Hawthorn has a long history of use by various populations to help protect against heart disease, control blood pressure, and lower cholesterol.  Animal and human studies show hawthorn increases coronary artery blood flow and improves circulation.


The fruits, which are small and rather dry, may be eaten raw or cooked into a jelly.  Be careful to strain out the seeds, which are poisonous.  Young spring leaves, flower buds, and young flowers are sometimes eaten by hikers as a snack.  


Hawthorn, Washington, Crataegus phaenopyrum

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  • We happily purchase or trade other plant material for locally gathered native seeds. Please provide pictures of the mature plant if possible, ideally fruiting or flowering for best ID.

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