Types of Hawthorn Trees

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Part of the rose family (Rosaceae), deciduous hawthorn trees (​Crataegus​ spp.) have white spring flowers and attractive, round, edible fall fruits. Of the approximately 280 different kinds of hawthorn, most are shrubs. Tree-sized hawthorns generally grow to 25 feet tall. Native to the temperate areas of North America, Europe, and Asia, most hawthorn trees are well-armed with spines, but some thornless cultivars are available. Hawthorns are best used as accents, screens, barriers or hedges.

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Thornless Trees

One of the drawbacks to using hawthorns are their spines, which make pruning and maintenance difficult. Cockspur hawthorn (​Crataegus crus-galli​) has abundant thorns as long as 3 inches that can inflict serious injury. Crusader is a thornless cultivar (​Crataegus crus-galli​ 'Cruzam') that grows into a tree 25 to 35 feet tall and as wide. It's a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 7. The hybrid Lavalle hawthorn (​Crataegus​ x ​lavalleii​) has lustrous green leaves, large orange-red fruits, and bronze-red fall foliage. Although it sports thorns, they are fewer in number than cockspur hawthorn. It's a medium-sized tree, 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide, suitable as a street or specimen tree. Lavalle hawthorn is a perennial in USDA zones 4 through 7.

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Colorful Fruits

Most hawthorn trees have red fruits, but some species have black or spotted fruits. Give variety to fall color by choosing a tree with a different color fruit. Black hawthorn (​Crataegus douglasii​) grows in western North America as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9. The 30-foot-tall tree bears black fruits that are sweet and juicy, suitable for eating fresh or for pies and preserves. A mostly thornless cultivar of an eastern North American hawthorn, Ohio Pioneer (​Crataegus punctata​ 'Ohio Pioneer) has red berries prominently speckled with white dots. Ohio Pioneer is a perennial in USDA zones 4 through 7 and can grow to 30 feet tall.

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Interesting Leaves and Bark

Most hawthorns look similar. Consider varieties that have distinguishing features such as colorful bark or leaves. Washington hawthorn (​Crataegus phaenopyrum​), although it has green summer leaves, starts out with reddish-purple new leaves in spring and has purple, red and orange fall leaves. The white-flowered tree grows to 25 to 35 feet tall as a perennial in USDA zones 4 through 8. The silvery bark of Winter King Southern hawthorn (​Crataegus viridis​ 'Winter King') peels to reveal orange under-layers, making it a handsome tree even in winter when it is bare of leaves. The large, bright orange fruits, small thorns, and disease resistance add to the tree's value. Winter King is a perennial in USDA zones 4 through 8.

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Exotic Species

Nonnative hawthorns from Europe or Asia make useful landscaping subjects. Chinese hawthorn (​Crataegus pinnatifida​) has long been grown for its berries. The thorns are short and not plentiful, and the plant grows 15 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide as a perennial in USDA zones 5 through 9. English hawthorn (​Crataegus rhipidophylla​, formerly ​C. laevigata​) is suited for urban use, withstanding conditions such as drought, air pollution, and poor soil and drainage. The species is usually white-flowered, but colorfully flowered varieties include the red-flowered Crimson Cloud, double-flowered pale rose Masekii and pink-flowered Rosea. English hawthorn and its cultivars are perennials in USDA zones 4 through 7.

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