Hawthorns and Crabapples
Nature Bulletin No. 153 May 1, 1948
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt of Conservation
HAWTHORNS AND CRABAPPLES
The wild crabapple and the hawthorn are small trees; pioneers of the
open woodlands, forest edges, sunny pastures, roadsides and fence
rows. One of the peculiarities of the Chicago region is the manner in
which the hawthorns, their seeds distributed largely by birds, will
march across abandoned fields and take possession. Undisturbed by ax
or fire, in twenty years there will be an almost impenetrable thicket
from 10 to 20 feet in height.
Crabapples and some species of hawthorns look much alike but the
leaves are different and the crab has no thorns on its twigs. Its fragrant
5-petalled blossoms are pink or rose-tinged, and its fruit is a small
greenish sour apple. The hawthorns have sharp thorns, white 5-
petalled blossoms with a rather unpleasant fragrance, and its fruits, or
"haws", are small, round, mealy-fleshed and varying In color from
brilliant scarlet to dull dotted red or yellow -- according to the species.
The hawthorns are a gypsy sort of tree-tribe distributed over most of
North America east of the Rockies, from Newfoundland to the
mountains of northern Mexico. Such an amazing and confusing
variation occurs among them that some authorities now list about 800
species, of which almost 200 are native to this Chicago region, plus
innumerable hybrids Morton Arboretum lists four basic types readily
The Downy Hawthorns -- first to bloom in May; lower branches
tending to droop; large broad leaves, yellow-green in color; short stout
thorns but not many; sweet-flavored scarlet fruit, earliest to ripen and
the "red haw" most commonly eaten.
The Cockspur Hawthorns -- latest to bloom in May or June; rigid
zigzag branches forming a broad round-topped head, narrow, glossy,
dark green leathery leaves; long slender thorns slightly curved; dull
red fruits that hang on until spring.
The Thicket Hawthorns -- most shrublike, with dense upward
branching; small triangular leaves; and a noticeable pink coloring at
the center of its blossom.
The Doffed Hawthorns -- picturesque flat-topped trees with horizontal
branches; late blooming; deeply-veined leaves; fruit dull red or yellow
with large pale dots.
In May, the haws and crabs glorify the landscape with their masses of
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