Washington Hawthorn Trees

Red Berries to Draw Birds, Furnish Winter Interest

Picture of Washington hawthorn tree with berries? Photo shows specimen massively fruiting.
David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany of Washington Hawthorn Trees

Plant taxonomy classifies Washington hawthorn trees as Crataegus phaenopyrum.

Members of the large rose family of plants, Washington hawthorn trees are deciduous flowering trees.

Plant Characteristics of Washington Hawthorn Trees, Uses in Landscape Design

Generally speaking, Washington hawthorn trees attain a height of 25-35 feet, with a spread also of 25-35 feet.

They produce attractive white blooms in clusters, in late spring to early summer. These bad-smelling flowers yield to red berries that persist throughout winter and are eaten by wild birds, such as cedar waxwings.

The bark of Washington hawthorn trees is pretty enough to add further visual interest to the winter landscape, and the branches bear thorns. Their summer leaves are a shiny, dark green; their 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 en masse as privacy screens. 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.

Sun and Soil Requirements, Planting Zones, Care Tips

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 5-9.

While hawthorns, generally speaking, 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.

Note that these plants 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:

  1. Indian hawthorns (Rhaphiolepis indica) are broadleaf evergreens that 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.
  2. 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 and ash. 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.
  3. Cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli) is another eastern North American native bearing white flowers and standing 25-35 feet tall. But its leaves -- unlike those on C. laevigata and C. phaenopyrum -- are unlobed.

The Name: "Hawthorne" Trees or "Hawthorn" Trees?

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).

More on Washington Hawthorn Trees

Washington hawthorn trees bloom in late spring to early summer. 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 pleasant sights for eyes sore from winter's barrenness, they desert us too quickly.

 Thoughtful landscape planning demands a yard with four-season interest.