Castle Howard, Historic House North Yorkshire
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Tree of the Month - Hawthorn
By Maria Ellis  //  Mon 8th May 2017
Trees, Hedging, Nature, Tree Nursery
The month of May announces itself with a fanfare (or should that be a tinkling of Morris bells?). The bright and colourful festival that is May Day welcomes in the second half of the year, rejoicing in the warmer weather and the awakening of nature as trees come into leaf and flowers once again brighten our gardens, meadows and woods.
It is a celebration of life and joy after many a long, dark night. Like most traditional festivals, May Day is intrinsically linked with particular plants and although our bank holiday always falls on the first of the month, traditionally festivities did not begin until the first blooms of the hawthorn appeared on their spiny, gnarled branches.

Hawthorn, or the May Tree as it is also known, bursts forth this month covering hedges, scrub and woodlands with abundant creamy white flowers and filling the air with its pungent perfume. Watch out for the transformation as you drive round country lanes or walk along footpaths – you’ll likely smell it before you see it. These blooms were the signal that summer is just around the corner. According to the 18th century maxim you should ‘ne’er cast a clout til May is out’ or in other words, don’t discard your warm winter clothing until the hawthorn has flowered. When this happy occasion does occur the countryside was thrown into action with hawthorn blossoms gathered and used as flower crowns, household decorations and wrapped around the village May pole to signal the start of the season.

This association that hawthorn has with celebration is one I think everyone can embrace. For farmers and land owners the hawthorn, or quickthorn, is almost synonymous with hedging. As its long use as a hedging plant testifies, it makes excellent land boundaries and is by far the most popular hedging plant we supply at the Castle Howard Tree Nursery. The name originally stems from the Anglo Saxon word ‘hagathorn’ with ‘haga’ meaning hedge.

All this hawthorn-laying gives our wildlife much to celebrate too as hawthorns provide excellent habitats for numerous species. Its dense and spiny foliage provides essential nesting sites for robins, wrens and yellowhammers. Look closely at the hedgerows this month and you might even see the little cottonwool cocoons of the long-tailed tit nestled between the branches. Also good news for the birds is that native hawthorns can support hundreds of insect species as well as moth caterpillars such as the Light Emerald, Small Eggar and the enigmatically named Vapourer.

Those among us who are patient and eagle-eyed will have reason to rejoice in autumn when the ruby red hawthorn berries, or ‘haws’, appear and decorate the hedgerows like hundreds of bright beads. Gather these up and you could be feasting on hawthorn jellies, wine and even ketchup before the season is out. Rich in antioxidents these berries were traditionally made into poultices for digestive aids, stomach pain and to reduce anxiety. If you can’t wait until autumn, pick the fresh new leaves appearing now and put them in salads to add a subtle, nutty flavour.

If you are feeling in a celebratory mood too this month then the hawthorn is the right tree for you. Perfect for all aspects and soil types and whether you are looking for a reliable hedge or a bit of a show-off, the hawthorn delivers for all.
Contact Details:
Tree Nursery: 01653 648646
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