The Hawthorns of Hawthorne Valley
Of course, the “e” at the end of Hawthorn indicates that the founders of Hawthorne Valley were paying homage at least in part to Nathaniel Hawthorne. However, a double-meaning was intended from the beginning, honoring at the same time a plant that is common in the hedgerows and lightly grazed pastures of our valley. Hawthorns are shrubs or small trees with long thorns on their branches and sometimes even emerging from their trunks. Their thorns are much longer (often several inches long) and sturdier than those of other “prickers”, such as the rose bushes, raspberries and blackberries (often collectively referred to as “brambles”), which also abound in the Valley.
Hawthorns all have white flowers and bloom mid May through mid June, some early-flowering species present their flowers at the same time as their leaves are emerging, the later-flowering species bloom in full foliage.
This year, we made an effort to observe the Hawthorns in our Valley, as one by one the bushes came into bloom, and tried to train our eyes to see the sometimes subtle differences in leaf shape, pubescence (how many little hairs there are), and flower morphology between the different species within that group. We were motivated by David Werier, an excellent botanist from Ithaca and one of the authors of the New York Flora Atlas (http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/), who had alerted us to the fact that the distribution of the different Hawthorn species is really not yet well documented throughout the entire state of New York. David joined us for a day in late May to see how many different Hawthorn species we could find right here in Hawthorne Valley.
With the help of David’s trained eye and the most recent botanical key for the Hawthorn group in New England on his i-pad, we found ten different Hawthorn species in the Valley that day. Some of them are quite distinct, as soon as one cares to pay attention. Others are differentiated by more subtle characteristics, which I yet need to train myself to see.
On the map below, the location of some easy-to-find examples of the more distinct species are indicated. We invite you to come out and have a close look at some of them. It will be particularly exciting to see their fruit develop over the next few months and to learn how the fruit color, consistency, and number of seeds in those miniature “apples” differ (or not) from species to species…
On this birds-eye view of Hawthorne Valley, the different colored stars indicate plants of different Hawthorn species. This is by no means a complete map of all Hawthorns in the Valley, but it gives an idea of their spatial distribution and where one could go to observe the variation between species: Crataegus coccinea (red stars), Crataegus pruinosa (blue stars), Crataegus crus-galli (yellow star), Crataegus dodgei (purple stars), Crataegus dissona (pink stars), Crataegus populnea (dark green stars), Crataegus biltmoreana (teal stars), Crataegus macrosperma (white star), Crataegus phaenopyrum (light green star), and Crataegus sp., yet unidentified but clearly different from any aforementioned (orange star). The taxonomic terminology follows Arthur Haine’s soon to be published “Flora of New England”.
A word of caution at the end: we have several other white-flowering shrubby plants that tend to be more common than Hawthorns in the pastures and hedgerows here in the Valley. Currently, the white blossoms of Multiflora Rose dominate parts of the landscape. But if you look close, Grey-twig Dogwood and Nannyberry (both have opposite leaves and tiny flowers in dense clusters) right now also hold their own. A few weeks ago, the most conspicuous white-flowering trees were various species of Crabapples. And, of course, the very first shrub to flower white in our hedgerows and along forest edges was the Shadbush.