The Washington hawthorn tree probably is not what first comes to mind when you are shopping for a landscape tree. That's too bad, because this June bloomer has as much or more to offer the yard as some of the better-known specimens. Find out what those good qualities are and how to grow the tree in your landscape.
Plant taxonomy classifies Washington hawthorn trees as Crataegus phaenopyrum. As members of the large rose family of plants (making them relatives of apple trees), they are deciduous, flowering trees.
Washington hawthorn trees attain a height of 25 to 35 feet, with a spread also of 25 to 35 feet. They produce attractive white blooms in clusters, in late spring to early summer. These flowers, known for their distinctive odor, yield to first green and then red berries that persist throughout winter. These berries are a favorite snack of wild birds, such as cedar waxwings.
The bark of the Washington hawthorn tree is pretty enough to add further visual interest to the winter landscape, and its branches bear thorns. Its summer leaves are a shiny, dark green; its fall foliage ranges in color from orange to red.
Washington hawthorn trees are attractive enough to be treated as specimens, and their foliage is dense enough for them to be used as a privacy screen if grown in a mass. Some homeowners take advantage of their sharp thorns and prune them into security hedges. With their dense foliage, they can also serve as small shade trees.
Grow Washington hawthorn trees in full sun, where the soil has good drainage. Once established, they are reasonably drought-tolerant. The climate is most favorable for growing Washington hawthorn trees in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 9.
While many types of hawthorns are subject to a number of diseases, this type is fairly disease-resistant. Fertilize every other year or so in spring with a balanced fertilizer. Little pruning is necessary. These plants are among the many common landscaping plants poisonous to dogs. But, on a positive note, they are deer-resistant.
Other Types of Hawthorns
Washington hawthorn trees are native to the southeastern United States. But they are not the only type of hawthorn. All kinds produce edible, black or red berries (with taste varying from variety to variety):
- English hawthorns (Crataegus laevigata) were considered sacred to the fairies in formerly Celtic lands. They are part of the "fairy-tree triad" that also includes oak (Quercus) and ash (Fraxinus). Legend has it that where all three of these trees grow together, one may see fairies. Native to Europe, this plant reaches a maximum height of 25 feet. The Crimson Cloud cultivar bears red flowers.
- Cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli) is another eastern North American native bearing white flowers and standing 25 to 35 feet tall. But its leaves, unlike those on C. laevigata and C. phaenopyrum, are unlobed.
Not all hawthorn plants are trees. Indian hawthorns (Rhaphiolepis indica) are broadleaf evergreen shrubs. They are cold hardy only to zone 7. Note that they are of an entirely different genus; the use of the common name is thus misleading here.
A salt-tolerant, slow grower, Indian hawthorn wants full sun. It puts out flower clusters (pink or white) that later become pretty blue berries. The leathery, dark-green leaves are also attractive. Rhaphiolepis x delacourii Georgia Petite is a dwarf cultivar (2.5 feet tall and 3.5 feet wide) ideal for small spaces.
A Tree by Any Other Name
You will sometimes see the misspelling, "hawthorne" trees. You may even remember seeing the name, "Hawthorne" in a book, convincing you that it is the proper spelling. But, if so, chances are that the book was about literature, not trees. For Nathaniel Hawthorne was a great American writer of the 19th century. But the tree name is spelled without the 'E' at the end. It is composed of "haw" (name for the berry of Crataegus laevigata) and "thorn" (for its thorny branches).
Bridge the Seasonal Landscaping Gap
For homeowners who grow some of the popular flowering specimens that bloom earlier in the spring (for example, flowering dogwoods), late bloomers such as Washington hawthorn trees can help bridge the gap between the spring's display of blooms and autumn's foliage show. For while the blossoms of early bloomers are a pleasant sight for eyes sore from winter's barrenness, they desert us too quickly. Thoughtful landscape planning demands a yard with four-season interest, and that means managing sequence of bloom.