Hawthorns have been planted ornamentally since colonial times. The leaves and flowers provide seasonal interest, as do the small red fruit, known as pomes or haws. These persist from summer through midwinter and provide food for twenty species of birds, including cedar waxwings, ruffed grouse, and the fox sparrow. Humans can eat the berries raw or cooked. Hawthorn wine and jam are favored for their flavor, as well as for purported healing properties.
The Arboretum's hawthorn is many trunked, with gray and peeling bark. Like most hawthorns, its crown is umbrella shaped. Dense foliage provides shade, cover, and nesting habitat for a variety of wildlife. Both a deterrent and an advantage, the spur-like thorns that parade along the branches protect small animals from predators and are responsible for the tree's specific epithet, Crus-galli, which means "leg of a rooster" in Latin.
For homeowners disenchanted with non-native Bradford pears, the cockspur hawthorn may be a good alternative. While Bradford pears are prone to topple over time, the hawthorn is a rock-steady, smallish tree that thrives in sun or partial shade. It pairs well with other fruiting trees (serviceberry is one example) and may even add some magic to the landscape—in Celtic lore, hawthorn is known as the "fairy tree" in honor of the sidhe who make their homes within its leafy embrace.
white and odorous with blossom,
framing the quiet fields,
and swaying flowers and grasses,
and the hum of bees.
—F. S. Flint