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Hawthorn Tree

Crataegus spp.

Height: A small tree or large shrub, often forming dense thickets; occasionally reaches 30 feet

Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous

Lifespan: Surprisingly long-lived for a relatively small tree; some individuals have reached 400 years of age

Fall Foliage: Fairly attractive orange, red or purple

Range: This tree is found across much of the U.S. in one form or another  

Typical Habitat: They often form thickets in fields, though they’ll also grow in forests with adequate soil moisture  

hawthorn tree leaf

The Hawthorn Tree: A Complicated Group of Species  

The hawthorn tree presents some special challenges for casual nature lovers, as there is widespread disagreement about the classification of the group.

Some authorities believe the genus is comprised of a relative handful of highly variable species, while others believe the group contains over 1,000 different species or forms.

But, as the differences between the various species are generally minor, we’re treating them all under a single “hawthorn” umbrella here. By and large, most members of the group present relatively similar biology, ecology, and physical traits.

Hawthorn Tree Identification: Tips & Tricks

Hawthorn leaves are unfortunately rather variable, which can make it tricky for beginners to identify these trees.

Many are triangular in shape, while others have more complex shapes, sometimes including several lobes. However, they’re almost always characterized by toothed margins.

The fruit and flowers – which are quite similar to those of apples – are often helpful for making an identification. Additionally, as with honey locust trees (Gleditsia triacanthos) and black locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia), the tree’s thorns often provide identification clues.  

The Hawthorn Tree: Additional Information

Still need to learn more about this interesting species? Check out these hawthorn tree resources to continue your journey.

  • Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: A general guide to the hawthorn tree group, along with several photographs of the tree’s fruit and flowers.
  • North Carolina State Extension: A fairly comprehensive guide, including a quick-reference chart and several high-quality photos.
  • Arbor Day Foundation: This resource is primarily concerned with growing the Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum), but the info presented will largely apply to all members of the group.

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