Hawthorn (whitethorn)

The Hawthorn, or Whitethorn, is so welcome year by year as a

harbinger of Summer, by showing its wealth of sweet-scented,

milk-white blossoms, in our English hedgerows, that everyone rejoices

when the Mayflower comes into bloom. Its brilliant haws, or fruit,

later on are a botanical advance on the blackberry and wild

raspberry, which belong to the same natural order. It has promoted

itself to the possession of a single
carpel or seed-vessel to each

blossom, producing a [246] separate fruit, this being a stony apple in


But the word haw is misapplied, because it really means a

hedge, and not a fruit; whilst hips, which are popularly

connected with haws, are the fruit-capsules of the wild Dog-rose.

Haws, when dried, make an infusion which will act on the kidneys;

they are astringent, and serve, as well as the flowers, in decoction,

to cure a sore throat.

The Hawthorn bush was chosen by Henry the Seventh for his

device, because a small crown from the helmet of Richard the Third

was discovered hanging thereon. Hence arose the legend Cleve to

thy crown though it hangs on a bush. In some districts it is called

Hazels, Gazels, and Halves; and in many country places the

villagers believe that the blossom of the Hawthorn still bears the

smell of the great plague of London. It was formerly thought to be

scathless--a tree too sacred to be touched.

Botanically, the Hawthorn is called Cratoegus oxyacantha, these

names signifying kratos, strength or hardness (of the wood); and

oxus, sharp--akantha, a thorn. It is the German Hage-dorn or

Hedge thorn, showing that from a very early period in the history of

the Germanic races, their land was divided into plots by means of


The Hawthorn is also named Whitethorn, from the whiteness of its

rind; and Quickset from its growing in a hedge as a quick or living

shrub, when contrasted with a paling of dead wood. An old English

name for the buds of the Hawthorn when just expanding, was

Ladies' Meat; and in Sussex it is called the Bread and Cheese tree.

In many parts of England charms or incantations are [247]

employed to prevent a thorn from festering in the flesh, as:--

Happy the man that Christ was born,

He was crowned with a thorn,

He was pierced through the skin

For to let the poison in;

But His five wounds, so they say,

Closed before He passed away;

In with healing, out with thorn!

Happy man that Christ was born.

The flowers are fertilised for the most part by carrion insects, and a

certain undertone of decomposition may be detected (says Grant

Allen) by keen nostrils in the scent of the Mayflower. It is this

curious element, in what seems otherwise a pure and delicious

perfume, which attracts the meat-eating insects, or rather those

insects which lay their eggs and hatch out their larvae in decaying

animal matter. The meat-fly comes first abroad just at the time when

the Mayblossom breaks into bloom.

A Greek bride was sometimes decked with a sprig of Hawthorn, as

emblematic of a flowery future, with thorns intermingled. It is

supposed that the Jewes maden, for our Saviour, a croune of the

branches of Albespyne, that is, Whitethorn, that grew in the same

garden, and therefore hath the Whitethorn many vertues being

called in France l'epine noble.

The shadows in the moon are popularly thought to represent a man

laden with a bundle of thorns in punishment of theft:--

Rusticus in luna quem sarcina deprimit una,

Monstrat per spinas nulli prodesse rapinas.

A thievish clown by cruel thorns opprest

Shows in the moon that honesty pays best.