Hawthorn Trees: Supernatural Powers and an Unassuming Champion.

Draco Malfoy’s wand was made of hawthorn

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.

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The new NATIONAL champion Cerro Hawthorn

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

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Thorn on the Cerros hawthorn

each of the many species in this genus. Various species of hawthorn are ubiquitous throughout North America.

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The fruit of the Cerros hawthorn

Another hawthorn native to most of North America, including Colorado, is the Fleshy hawthorn (Crataegus succulenta.) Although the general consensus seems to be 

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The Fleshy hawthorn, another native tree

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

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The fruit of the fleshy hawthorn

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!

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Thorn on the fleshy hawthorn.

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.

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Lavelle hawthorn near the miniature railroad tunnel shed

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.

 

The Colorado State Tree and some Friends

The first Colorado Blue Spruce was discovered on Pike’s Peak

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The Blue Spruce at the corner of Jackson and Mulberry

Colorado Blue Spruce  (Picea pungens or Picea pungens Engelm) was found on Pike’s Peak and later named by the father of the Engelmann spruce. In 1892 it was voted to be the state tree of Colorado, but this did not become official until the 1930s. There are possibly forty hybridizations of this tree, such as the Fat Albert (Picea pungens Fat Albert), the Baker Blue Spruce (Picea pungens Bakeri), and the Thomsen Blue Spruce (Picea pungens  Thomsen). All three varieties can be found in City Park. The Thomsen Blue Spruce is listed as a state champion tree, although this can’t be verified on the list of 2017 State Champion Trees. The Fat Albert variety was developed in the 1970s, meaning the tree in City Park can only be around 50 years old.

Colorado Blue Spruce, which are seen throughout most of the Rocky Mountain states, may reach 600 years of age. According to conifers.org the tallest Colorado Blue Spruce grow in the San Juan Mountains near Pagosa Springs and these trees include both state and national champions. The Blue Spruce is another tree often used as a Christmas tree. They are grown in the east for this purpose. Most sources identify the native range of this tree to be the southern Rockies, but the USDA site adds some eastern states, such as New York. Another USDA site on the internet posits these trees are actually “escapees” and not native at all. A blue spruce has been the capitol Christmas tree three times. According to Wikipedia, the National Christmas tree has been a living blue spruce since 1973.

Like the White Spruce and the Engelmann Spruce, the Blue Spruce is known by other names, including white spruce, silver spruce and water spruce. Spruce seem easy to identify as Picea, but deciding on which species/variety each belongs to is as confusing as their various names. There are some differences between their leaves and cones but even these are difficult for the casual observer to determine.

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There are two tagged Colorado Blue Spruce in the park, but I could only locate the tagged one on the NW corner of Mulberry and Jackson C163. The tagged tree belongs to a small group of conifers and is the spruce closest to Jackson Street, near an Eastern White Pine. You have to “walk into” the branches to find the identifying tag.

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Branches of the Colorado Blue Spruce

To find the Thomsen Blue Spruce (C166),

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Thomsen Blue Spruce

follow the sidewalk that runs along Mulberry Street. This tree is the first evergreen west of the signaled crosswalk, more or less across from 1413 West Mulberry. Cones can be seen near the top of the tree.

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Close up of the needles on the Thomsen Blue Spruce

To find the Fat Albert D213, keep walking west and cross Sheldon Drive to the NW corner of Mulberry and Sheldon Drive. The tree is question is the spruce closer to the lake. The needles on the Fat Albert seem to be the stiffest and most prickly of the specimens collected and are very silvery-blue.

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The Fat Albert
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Needles on the Fat Albert

 

The last tagged Picea pungens cultivar in the park is at the SW corner of Sheldon Drive and City Park, the other end of Sheldon Lake. The Baker Blue Spruce (D194) is next to the tagged Engelmann Spruce. 

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Branches on the Baker Blue Spruce
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Baker Blue Spruce