I grew up with an old hawthorn tree in our family garden and can remember looking at it as a child and picking at the red ‘haws’ that fell in the autumn. Over the years of studying and working with trees I have come to notice the hawthorns that are found in the wider country. This is not a species that does too well in woodlands other than lingering a little where some light may break through the canopy, or as scrub in a woodland glade.
Hawthorns are tough and can deal with some of the harshest conditions in the lowlands of the UK, pushing as far as they can into the uplands of places like Dartmoor and the Yorkshire Dales. The majority of the photos above are from those places. On Dartmoor hawthorns are icons of the windswept moor.
Hawthorn is a tree that has been immensely useful to us as farmers. It provides dense, quick-growing hedgerow that can keep livestock in and encroaching people out. It has other names: may and quickthorn. The former points to its regular flowering in the month of May, while the latter typifies its speedy growth. During the Enclosures Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries, hawthorn was planted en masse as common land across the UK was taken into private ownership and ‘stolen’ from public right of access.
Today many hawthorns fight on against sheep teeth, wind and rain against drystone walls and behind boulders in the harshest British countryside.