On September 4, 2018, one of the trees in Fort Collin’s City Park was named a NATIONAL champion, the 9th such title Colorado can claim. Okay, okay, don’t get too excited. Yes, it is nice to have a national champion, but when you find this specimen, you might be a tad disappointed as it is far from gigantic. In fact, before I knew it was a national champion, I kind of laughed at it. Its fruit is minuscule. The leaves late in the summer looked ravished, and overall, it wasn’t impressive, although it was larger and bushier than one of the other hawthorns in the park.
Crataegus erythopoda, or the Cerro hawthorn, is native to the Rocky Mountain states along with other trees and shrubs in this genus. Crataegus is a member of the rose family. According to Sibley in The Sibley Guide to Trees, in the early 1900s botanists had named over a thousand different species of hawthorns. This number is now closer to a more manageable one hundred. Apparently types of hawthorn grow throughout North America. Like so many other trees, they are known by many names including thornapple, may-tree in Europe, white thorn, mayflower and maybush.
The trees of this genus have thorns, flowers in the spring, and pomes resembling crabapples in the fall. In the UK the fruit are called haws. These berry-like fruits vary in size and color for
each of the many species in this genus. Various species of hawthorn are ubiquitous throughout North America.
Another hawthorn native to most of North America, including Colorado, is the Fleshy hawthorn (Crataegus succulenta.) Although the general consensus seems to be
the fruit of the hawthorn is not delectable, at least one website says the haws of this species are sweet, juicy, and good for making jellies. It also mentions the fruit is slightly larger than that of other species, and these characteristics might be where it gets its Latin name. Eat the Weeds indicates that hawthorn seeds inside the pomes are poisonous and should not be eaten. At the same time, the website includes recipes for
Schnapps, jellies, including one of Euell Gibbons recipes, and hawthorn catsup. If you happen to own a prolific tree, you do have to be careful of the thorns if picking the haws!
According to Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West (Michael Moore, 2003) the hawthorn has been used as a heart tonic. Other authors say it has been used for cardiovascular health for over 500 years. Another source goes so far as to say the hawthorn provides “the world’s best heart tonic,” mentions studies conducted in Europe and references both articles and books. The flowers, which are bitter, the fruit, and the leaves all may be used, although the berries may begin to ferment after frost. As is the case with most herbal medications, this one comes with warnings of potential side effects.
Hawthorn trees have played a part in mythology, and are often considered unlucky. Draco Malfoy’s wand is made of hawthorn wood in the Harry Potter series. Up until the 19th century, the tree was considered to have supernatural powers. A particular tree in England, the Glastonbury Holy Thorn Tree has links to the beginning of Christianity and actually bloomed twice a year, including near the winter solstice. This most famous of hawthorn trees was vandalized in 2010, but in 2011 there was a report that it may be “back from the dead.”
Hawthorn trees easily and freely hybridize, which might be why the number of separate species varies. The other three identified hawthorns in City Park appear to be variant trees. The Lavelle hawthorn (Crataegus X Lavallei) E65 is a relatively spineless variety with small green fruits into the fall.
This tree is located near the shed in the center of the current miniature train tracks at the corner of City Park and Bryan Drive.
C169, the Snowbird Hawthorn (Crataegus x mordenensis SnowBird) is located near the corner of Mulberry and Sheldon Drive, along Mulberry Street. This particular tree had very few haws. Thorns protrude from the small branches.
The last of the tagged hawthorns is near the Snowbird, about a third of the way between Mulberry and City Park along Sheldon Drive. C174 is the Winter King Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis Winter King.)
Both the fleshy hawthorn (Crataegus succulenta) E40 and E36 Cerros hawthorn are on the west end of the ballfields. You can find the ballfields by walking or driving to the very end of Oak Street. E36 is near the NW tip of the south ball field while E40 is near the NW tip of the north field.
E36 is mis-identified on at least some copies of the tree guide as a Black Hawthorn, but its tag clearly says Crataegus erythopoda or the Cerro hawthorn.