Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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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

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 recognized.

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 bloom.

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