Midland hawthorn is native to western and central Europe. It grows best in dense, ancient woodland, shady old woodland and hedgebanks on heavy soils.
Common name: Midland hawthorn; woodland hawthorn; English hawthorn; mayflower; smooth hawthorn
Scientific name: Crataegus laevigata
UK provenance: native
Interesting fact: in medieval times in the UK, Midland hawthorn was probably the more common of the two hawthorn species, favouring ancient woods and hedge banks. Today, those habitats are much rarer, and so the species is less abundant.
What does Midland hawthorn look like?
Overview: a large shrub that can sometimes grow into a small tree, reaching to 8 metres in height but can be taller. It provides a dense, thorny cover.
Leaves: shiny, three-lobed and glossy dark green leaves between 2 and 6 cm long.
Flowers: creamy-white, and sometimes pink or red flowers appear in clusters, from mid-April.
Fruits: flower clusters are followed by red, oval berries, called haws, in autumn. The haws contain two seeds, differentiating Midland hawthorn from common hawthorn. One cultivated red variant is ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ which can be commonly seen in suburban parks and gardens.
Look out for: the deeply lobed leaves, spiny twigs and berries (haws).
Could be confused with: common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna).
- Midland hawthorn tends to flower one to two weeks earlier than common hawthorn.
- It has twin stigmas in the flowers and twin seeds in the haws (fruits).
- The scent of Midland hawthorn flowers are less pleasant, being reminiscent of rotting flesh once they’ve been cut.
- Its leaves are shallowly-lobed and its overall appearance is much laxer than common hawthorn.
- It’s not always easy to tell the difference as hybridisation occurs between the two species.
Identified in winter by: the spines emerge from the same point as the buds; distinguishing them from blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) which has buds on the spines in winter.
Where to find Midland hawthorn
It grows best in ancient woodland, shady old woodlands and hedge-banks on clay soils. It’s most common in central and southern England (south of the Humber) and is fairly frequent in Leicestershire and Rutland. Midland hawthorn is uncommon in Wales, Scotland, south-west England and East Anglia.
Value to wildlife
The haws provide a valuable food source for many small birds and insects including thrushes, hawthorn shield bugs and yellowhammers. The dense thickets also provide shelter for small mammals such as wood mice and are used by small birds as nesting sites.
Mythology and symbolism
When cut, the flowers have such a foul smell that medieval people said it reminded them of the stench of the Great Plague in London in 1665-6. Although many people now associate this with common hawthorn, it is thought that the association originated from Midland hawthorn which may have been more common in the middle ages.
How we use Midland hawthorn
The wood from the Midland hawthorn, particularly the fluted stems, is used for tool handles and walking sticks. It is often planted as hedging in wildlife gardens as its heavy thickets provide good shelter and act as effective screens.
The red haws can be used to make jellies, chutneys and wine.
Midland hawthorn can be affected by fireblight, which is a bacterial disease that kills the shoots of the plant and causes blossom to wilt and gives the shrub a scorched appearance.