Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) Sceach Gheal
Just as the flowers of the Blackthorn begins to fade the Hawthorn explodes into flower, matching the floral show of the Blackthorn in colour and intensity.
The Hawthorn, or by its Latin name Crataegus monogyna, also known as Quickthorn, Whitethorn, or the May tree, is one of the most common small trees/large shrubs grown in Ireland. It is sometimes grown as individual trees, but it is more common to see it grown in a closely planted row as a hedge or screen. It is the ideal candidate for this, as young hawthorn plants grow strongly with many thorny branches and side-shoots. This quickly forms a thicket, which makes for a virtually stock-proof hedge.
A bushy tree, Hawthorn grows on average, to a height and spread of 6 metres.
Unlike Blackthorn whose stems are dark, the stems of Hawthorn are light grey turning to a pinkish brown colour with age, which is also when characteristic filled cracks start to appear up along the trunk. Most of the young twigs sprouting from the tree emerge red before going through these colour changes.
The glossy green leaves are between 20 to 30mm long and are divided into 3, 5 or 7 deeply cut lobes. The tree comes into leaf at the end March.
By September lots of red berries appear, these berries are known as ‘haws’. Birds will feed on these through the winter and so can we, although they don’t really taste of very much. They are dominated by a stone, which must not be cracked when eating the flesh of the berry, but they can be roasted and ground into a coffee substitute. The stone is often made up of several segments which tend to fuse together to appear as one. The berries are mostly used to make jams, and fruit leathers.
It is also said that fairies who gather around a thorn tree are thought to be earth spirits and as a precaution no evil thing is ever said of them for fear of retribution. The old belief that any damage done to their trysting tree will bring misfortune to the doer has not died out and farmers still laboriously cultivate around them. In several instances it has been impossible to persuade workmen to remove a thorn tree from the route of a new road or footpath (as the picture below of a Hawthorn from somewhere in rural Ireland clearly shows), and there is widespread belief that to cut a thorn would bring ill luck on the person 'injuring' the tree and possibly death.*
Another use of the Hawthorn in Irish myths and legends is a Hawthorn known as St Ciaran's Bush. Ciaran was a fifth century saint who founded a monastery here.
The tree does not appear to be particularly old, but it has been confirmed that the same bush has been decorated for at least 40 years. It is likely that the present tree replaced an older one.
The local people helped to preserve the tree when it was in danger of being felled due to the realignment of the road some years ago. It now stands on an island of grass, surrounded by low white railings, the old road on the west side, and the new road on the east.*
* References [Tree Heritage or Britain and Ireland by Andrew Morton]