The Hawthorn Tree

The Hawthorn Tree

Illustration by Alan Fitzpatrick

Driving through the countryside in Ireland at this time of year, I often mistake the flowering Blackthorn in the hedgerows and fields for the Hawthorn or commonly known May Tree. Every year I look them up, so this year I have decided to put a plan in place to remind me which is which. Each plant I want to remember will have a photograph, illustration and a short note about it here, so by next year, I will (a) remember and (b) have all my notes in one place.

To start, I am focusing on the Hawthorn Tree. The tree has shiny lobed leaves at this time of year, which can be eaten and have a nutty flavour. They can also be added to salads and are reputed to be able to reduce cholesterol. Later into May, they flower white blossoms that are strongly scented. These flowers produce the red berry later in the season. Traditionally the leaves and the berries were known as ‘bread and cheese’, the leaves being the bread and the berry the cheese. When the leaves were aged, they were sandwiched with the young red berries.

My mum and dad remember eating these and preferring the young leaves on the trees now. I recently tried the leaves myself, and they were pretty nice. I would have them on a salad. It is also suggested to have them with new potatoes. The red berries are high in Vitamin C and can be made into syrup.

Here in Ireland, the Hawthorn is heavily associated with the fairies. When it is seen growing close to the Ash and Oak trees, the area is said to be part of Fairyland, and the scent of the flowers, if inhaled deeply, is believed to help one access the ‘other world’.

So to answer my initial query, what is the difference between the Hawthorn and the Blackthorn? The Hawthorn has leaves first and then flowers; the Blackthorn has the flowers first and then the leaves. The flowers of both trees are very similar. The Hawthorn flowers turn into red berries, and the Blackthorn flowers produce the sloe fruit.

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