English midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)

30 m. south of Alumni House Map

Immediately south of the Alumni House the visitor encounters this somewhat scruffy example of a cultivar of the common English Midland hawthorn. This particular plant produces a profusion of pink blooms in spring; the parent species has white blossoms. According to several authorities Crataegus displays a marked tendency to form hybrids, so the exact identity of any specific tree may be in question. Most trees identified as English Midland hawthorns in North America have pink flowers.

The hawthorn often is a good choice for a backyard tree; it has a moderate maximum growth, produces an excellent floral display in spring, and in the fall its fruit (called "haws") are colorful, and much sought-after by the local bird population. In England, and elsewhere, Crataegus occasionally is planted in a dense, linear array and pruned to form an impenetrable hedgerow; some species bristle with a truly nasty arsenal of sharp, stout thorns. According to one myth, Jesus' crown of thorn was constructed from the branches of a hawthorn.

However, the hawthorn is not entirely malevolent. In common with mountain ash and holly, it appears in many folk tales and incantations, often in a kindly light. It has been celebrated in prose and poetry. My favorite:

The fair maid who, on the first of May
Goes to the field at the break of Day
And bathes in the dew of the Hawthorn Tree
Will ever after handsome be