The hawthorn plant has been a reason of fascination for people for hundreds and years now, at least. It has some beautiful flowers, but at the same time, it presents some harsh thorns that can easily penetrate flesh. Because of this duality, there is a strong symbolism associated with it. From being beneficial for people’s health to hurting them, from beauty to pain, this extraordinary plant deserves knowing a little more about it.
Symbolism of the Hawthorn Plant
According to Celtic folklore, the hawthorn tree is tightly connected to duality and balance. The ancient Celts were great botanists and herbalists, and they were aware of the medicinal value this plant has. They used to consider it a bad omen if you brought the branches inside the house. This happened mostly because of the smell of the cut branches, which resembled that of decaying flesh. Technically, the chemical components of the two smells are identical. Thus, we can also note some death symbols associated with this plant.
Besides this, the hawthorn is also connected to male energy. Paradoxically, it was historically seen as a symbol of fertility, as well as an aspect of the female goddess (crone, maiden, and mother). As you can notice, the hawthorn plant was indeed a contradiction on many levels, which Celts observed and took advantage of.
The idea of duality reminds people of the concept of yin and yang as well. Moreover, the Celts relied a lot on the power of balance. In their vision, it also represented a union of the opposites. They considered it a message for the people, in the sense that they should learn to be more accepting and tolerating of the unconventional.
Besides the Celtic culture, the hawthorn plant was important in other cultures as well. It represents the fight of the Christian Church with other pagan beliefs and celebrations. It was believed that the hawthorn could clean a man’s heart of negativity and could bring him love and forgiveness. The plant was the guard of springs and well, and supposedly its flowers would help people’s prayers reach heaven. Spells for fertility, good luck (especially in fishing) and happiness included a hawthorn bloom.
Hawthorn Plant Facts
For a long time now, the hawthorn has been used in treating heart diseases or other issues associated with blood vessels (for example, high or low blood pressure, chest pain, congestive heart failure or irregular heartbeat). It was also useful for atherosclerosis or high cholesterol treatments. Some people have also used hawthorn when having issues with the digestive system (for instance stomach pain, indigestion, and diarrhea). Moreover, it helps with anxiety, it increases urine output, it is useful with menstrual problems and it works as a sedative.
But how does the hawthorn plant manage to do all this? For example, it seems that the fruit can have an effect of lowering cholesterol since it increases bile excretion. It cuts down on the formation of cholesterol and it enhances the receptors of the LDL (low-density lipoprotein, also called “bad cholesterol”). Among the hawthorn benefits, you will also find antioxidant properties. What’s more, it decreases the amount of fats found in the aorta and the liver. The proanthocyanidin substance it contains makes the blood vessels relax, thus lowering blood pressure.
Maybe not many people know about this, but the hawthorn plant is excellent for xeriscaping. Xeriscaping refers to the type of landscape that relies on a smart use of the available resources. This implies taking advantage of the structure of the land, the water flow and other similar factors. Even though the hawthorn does require constant water and a moist soil, it is an excellent plant that fits a xeriscaping landscape design.
There are plenty of varieties of the plant, each with a different amount of thorns and flowers. For example, the Chinese hawthorn is famous for the berries it has. It has short, abundant thorns, and it reaches 15-20 feet in height. The English variety is more suitable for urban settings, since it can endure air pollution, drought and poor conditions in what concerns the drainage and the soil. Because of the large variety, many people choose to use it for their gardens and landscapes.
Planting and Growing Hawthorn Tips
How to Plant a Hawthorn Hedge
In New England, the hawthorn trees are quite hardy. You can find them at a local nursery, for example. If you’re wondering when to plant hawthorn, then you must know that the hedges need to be planted starting with spring until the early fall. You should use some soil that is well drained and rich in humus. Usually, the hawthorn plant needs a sunny location to use most flowers and fruit. It is important to space them some 20-30 feet apart. However, if you plan on using it as a hedgerow, then you should plant them closer together.
A useful tip is to transplant a hawthorn. If you happen to find a tree that has reached the appropriate age of producing fruit, then most likely you will also find some small ones around it. Take one of them and transplant it back home. Getting the roots shouldn’t be a difficult task if the sucker is young and if you do the process in early spring or late in fall.
Of course, you can always grow it from the seed, but for this, you will need to be patient. First, you will have to dry out a Hawthorn berry while it still has the fruit inside. For months, you will have to store it in a freezer. Each couple of days you should take it out and thaw it, then put it back in the freezer. Even so, they will take forever to sprout, which is why not many people choose to go this way.
Growing a Hawthorn Plant
One important thing to know about hawthorn trees is that they should be well watered and to enjoy a moist soil. Keep in mind to create a mulch ring of bark or wood chips. Place the mulch around the individual trees on the lawns since it helps to keep the soil moist. Remember to water deeply and consistently! Moreover, it prevents weed growth, as well as protecting the trunks from damage (which may be caused by string trimmers or lawn mowers). Usually, the plants need to be fertilized in spring, preferably with a tree plant food. During dry spells, it is recommended to water the trees for the first year. After that, the plant will become drought resistant.
It is important for you to choose the right spot for planting the tree. Considering its thorns are dangerous, make sure that it’s not a highly circulated area or that there aren’t many children going around. Pets can also be put at risk if you plant a hawthorn tree in the wrong place.
Maintenance and Pruning
The maintenance you need to provide for this plant is pretty much the same you need to do with apples. Pruning also helps you create the shape you want in the tree. Some people choose to let the shrub have its natural shape, but you can also have it in a hedge, a ball form, a standard tree or a small tree, for example. The pruning needs to be done after the occurring of flowers so that you won’t curtail the blooming crop for next year.
Owners usually deadhead to remove the spent blossoms. Moreover, this technique makes the shrubs look more pleasant to the eyes. If you are planting a hedgerow, you have to know that the suckers tend to fill the gaps. Simply mow around the hedgerow, as well as around the individual hawthorns you have. If there is a particular area where you don’t want hawthorns, just grow grass. The thorns can be cut off with pruners or wire cutters.
Keeping It Healthy
Spraying is also an important part of the maintenance process. Routine spraying helps with keeping aphids, scale, mites or lace bugs at bay. Not treating the insects may lead to them getting out of control, so you should pay attention to that! Early in the season, you should also use horticultural oil for the hawthorn plant. Do it at the right time, since the wrong spraying can damage the tree. Always read the instructions you have! There is also a special general-purpose spray for hawthorn trees, which you can use later in the season.
Other pests and diseases you should keep an eye out for are:
- Black vine weevil;
- Chilli thrips;
- Florida wax scale;
- Flatheaded borers;
- Fuller rose beetle;
- Fire blight;
- Root rots;
- Entomosporium leaf spot;
- Verticillium wilt.
Foliage and Fruit
You will recognize a hawthorn plant by the fact that it has an oblong shape and it measures between 2 and 4 inches thick. They are serrated, very thick and have a leathery feel. The top side of the leaf should have a darker shade than the underside. However, there are also some varieties that have red leaves when they unfurl for the first time. In the fall, the leaves of some varieties can turn to red or purple.
The flowers have a star shape and are either pink or white, in various shades. They present 5 petals and usually, you will find them clustered together in panicles. You may even notice that some hawthorn plant varieties are fragrant.
The hawthorn produces some dark blue fruits, of a type named pome. If the name of the type is not familiar to you, think of pears, apples or rose hips, which are also pomes.
Hawthorn Design Tips
The Indian variety of the hawthorn is perhaps one of the smallest shrubs that are evergreen. They can measure up to three feet tall, but you can also shape it to be smaller. This translates to the fact that it’s a versatile option. Commercial landscapes often employ hawthorns. For example, in Southern California, you can notice lots of them planted on the sidewalks. They are also appropriate in a wildlife garden. Many birds, such as the cedar waxwing, love the fruit and often eat it if they find it.
The hawthorn plant is an interesting choice for a garden. Perhaps the word that better describes it is “versatile”. It can adapt easily to almost any type of garden and it can integrate perfectly in various designs. Moreover, it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance and it is regarded as a symbol of duality and acceptance of the unconventional. The hardest part is to choose what variety you like most!
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