Friday, May 25, 2012

At a Glance: Common Hawthorn and Midland Hawthorn

Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), above.

Very common everywhere in the UK, and also much planted. Loves chalky as well as most other soil-types. Prefers well-drained and sunny locations, where it is often spectacularly floriferous. Even writhing with cream, as in some of David Hockney's paintings.

Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), below.

Native only to south-east-central England, and always less common than C. monogyna. Prefers heavier soils and tolerates more shade. Flowers a couple of weeks earlier. Often planted outside its native range, usually by mistake for C. monogyna, except in its various decorative forms such as the popular double-pink 'Paul's Scarlet'.

Both species are very variable. Hybrids sometimes occur.

Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)

Leaf of Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

The leaf of Common Hawthorn (above) is more deeply lobed and is toothed only at the ends of the lobes. The leaf of Midland Hawthorn (below) is toothed round most of the margin.

Leaf of Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)

Flowers of Common Hawthorn (Cratagus monogyna)

The flowers:  Common Hawthorn above, Midland Hawthorn below. The former has only one style per flower (which is what monogyna means). The latter has two.

Flowers of Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)

Fruit of Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

And the berries - strictly, pomes - (these photos are from late September): Common Hawthorn above,  Midland Hawthorn below. Nothing much to differentiate these, but the leaves tell the story.

Fruit of Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)

Nothing much, that is, until you break them open and extract the stony seeds (a smeary, messy business). As you'd expect, Common Hawthorn has only one (below left), whereas Midland Hawthorn has two together, like the two halves of an orange  (below centre and right). 

Left: seed of Crataegus monogyna. Centre and right: seeds of Crataegus laevigata

The young leaves when they emerge are well-known as a good wild food. The "berries" are an excellent raw and wild food, too. If you are eating for bulk, rather than a tidbit, then a bland favour is best - most berries are too sugared and will give you the squits if you gorge on them. Besides, the somewhat buttery texture of hawthorn "berries" suggests to me that they may be comparatively rich in fat content;  and fat means warmth.

Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) looking frothy

But can you tell Common Hawthorn from Midland Hawthorn from a distance? Sometimes. 

In bloom, Common Hawthorn tends to have a frothy appearance, like a good head of beer about to flow down the side of a glass. This is because the crowded groups of flowers become dome-shaped: the flowers round the edge of each group are bent to the side.

Contrariwise, Midland Hawthorn in bloom often reminds me vaguely of a polka-dot pattern: small neat flower-groups, well-separated from each other.

It's not infallible, but it gives you a pretty good clue.

Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) looking dotty

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