Tag Archives: Hawthorn

Celebrating Nature in December

Even in winter we can find much to celebrate in nature. Our friendly robin greets us each morning looking for breakfast.


And many other garden birds can be seen at the feeders, or queuing up for them.

Blue tit and Coal tit

Most of the leaves have fallen now but even on the ground they still look beautiful.

Oak and beech leaves

Some trees, though striped of leaves, are covered in interesting lichens and colourful berries.

Hawthorn tree

While many greens are gone others can be found – like this very healthy and vibrant moss.


Grasses and reeds, while brown, still have interesting seed heads


And on those calm bright winter days we can still enjoy that lovely winter light – even if its length is very short.

Lough Conn

Winter too is a time of reflection, for remembering those gone before us, and thinking of those left behind.

Hawthorn hedgerows

One of the distinctive features of our Irish countryside are our hedgerows. These field boundaries are part of our cultural and agricultural heritage, often forming townland as well as farm demarcations.

Hawthorn hedgerows

Hawthorn hedgerows

In many counties, including Mayo, hawthorn makes up a large proportion of these native hedgerows (hawthorn is estimated to occur in about 90% of hedgerows in the county).
Hawthorns flower in May, so it is sometimes called the May tree, or whitethorn. This year there is an abundance of hawthorn blossom, much like last year. Some of the hedgerows look almost white (perhaps an indication of why it is also called whitethorn). Anytime there is a strong wind, the little roads around us are covered in fallen blossom. So it almost looks like it has been snowing!

In Ireland, the hawthorn is often associated with fairies and the underworld. Lone hawthorns in the middle of fields will not be touched for fear of upsetting the fairy folk. Hawthorns can live up to 400 years old, and while they never get tall, they can become quite gnarled, so you can see where it may get this reputation.

Hawthorn rainbow

Hawthorn in the background with rainbow

Garden Biodiversity

Last week I did a post on International Biodiversity Day. As part of the day here in Ireland the National Biodiversity Centre was encouraging us to record the wildlife in our gardens over the weekend.

I concentrated on wild flowers, trees, butterflies, bees, birds and mammals. In total I had 64 species, though I know that there are more as some birds and butterflies that occur in the garden were not recorded over the weekend. I also didn’t see any frogs or newts which I also know are here. A couple of bees were missing too and I wasn’t able to identify all the hoverflies seen – some are quite tricky unless you have a microscope.

There were forty one wildflowers and trees, and thirteen different bird species, though admittedly I only heard the cuckoo! The hoverfly Leucozona lucorum was a new one for me, though I have since seen about five more. Another lovely find was a small copper butterfly. The peacock butterfly was quite worn but still beautiful.

Nationally on Friday 22nd May – 1,756 records were submitted to the Date Centre,  on Saturday 23rd May – 1,894 and on Sunday 24th May – 1,658 records. A total of 890 different species were recorded which is pretty impressive. More information can be seen on http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/



These beautiful haws are not the native Irish hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna but an American form Crataegus ellwangeriana. This species originated in Eastern USA, and is thought to be a hybrid. The haws are about the size of a marble and taste somewhat of apples. It is one of three Crataegus species we have planted as part of our forest garden and the only one yet to produce haws. Compared to our native hawthorn, Crataegus ellwangeriana has a more pleasant flavour.

American hawthorn

American hawthorn

Our native hawthorns usually crop well, which is one of the reason we thought to try some of the cultivated varieties. They are one of the most common trees in our native hedgerows. At this time of year, the haws are an important food source for many birds, especially blackbirds and thrushes.

Native hawthorn

Native hawthorn – in a good year

This year, the haw crop seems very poor and I wonder how that will impact on the thrush and blackbird populations as winter progresses. We had lots of rowan berries in the young mixed wood that is planted close-by but the berries are already nearly all gone – I can only assume they have been eaten already.

Rowan berries

Rowan berries, Sorbus aucuparia

Elderberries too and nearly all eaten. So what will be left?

Elderberry, Sambucus nigra

Elderberry, Sambucus nigra