Quick facts

Common names: Midland hawthorn, woodland hawthorn, English hawthorn, mayflower, smooth hawthorn

Scientific name: Crataegus laevigata

Family: Rosaceae

Origin: native

A large shrub that can sometimes grow into a small tree reaching up to 8m in height, but can be taller. It provides a dense, thorny cover.

Look out for: the deeply lobed leaves, spiny twigs and berries (haws).

Identified in winter by: the spines that emerge from the same point as the buds; distinguishing them from blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) which has buds on the spines in winter.

What does Midland hawthorn look like?

Midland hawthorn single leaf on white background

Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / WTML

Leaves 

Shiny, three-lobed and glossy, dark green leaves between 2–6cm long.

Midland hawthorn blossom and leaves

Credit: Mcphoto Pulwey / Alamy Stock Photo

Flowers

Creamy-white, and sometimes pink or red flowers, which appear in clusters from mid-April.

Midland hawthorn red berries close-up

Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / WTML

Fruits

Flower clusters are followed in autumn by red, oval berries called haws. The haws contain two seeds, differentiating Midland hawthorn from common hawthorn.

Not to be confused with:

Common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Midland hawthorn tends to flower one to two weeks earlier than common hawthorn. It has twin stigmas in the flowers and twin seeds in the haws. Its leaves are shallowly lobed and its overall appearance is much laxer than common hawthorn.

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Where to find Midland hawthorn

It grows best in ancient woodland, shady old woodlands and hedgebanks on clay soils. It's most common in central and southern England (south of the Humber) and is fairly frequent in Leicestershire and Rutland. Midland hawthorn is uncommon in Wales, Scotland, south-west England and East Anglia.

Midland hawthorn is native to western and central Europe.

Great tit on midland hawthorn

Credit: Mauritius Images Gmbh / Alamy Stock Photo

Value to wildlife

The haws provide a valuable food source for many small birds and insects, including thrushes, hawthorn shield bugs and yellowhammers. The dense thickets also provide shelter for small mammals such as wood mice and are used by birds as nesting sites.

Midland hawthorn flowers on branch in spring

Credit: Bob Gibbons / Alamy Stock Photo

Mythology and symbolism

When cut, the flowers have such a foul smell that medieval people said it reminded them of the stench of the Great Plague.

Did you know?

In the Middle Ages, Midland hawthorn was probably the more common of the two hawthorn species. However, as its favoured habitats are lost, they are much rarer.

Uses of Midland hawthorn

The wood from the Midland hawthorn, particularly the fluted stems, is used for tool handles and walking sticks. It is often planted as hedging in wildlife gardens as its heavy thickets provide good shelter and act as effective screens.

The red haws can be used to make jellies, chutneys and wine.

Threats and conservation

Midland hawthorn can be affected by fireblight, which is a bacterial disease that kills the shoots of the plant and causes blossom to wilt and give the shrub a scorched appearance.