The Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc.

Trees & Shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Hawthorn (Red Haw, Fireberry Hawthorn)


Scientific Name
Crataegus chrysocarpa Ashe and Crataegus ssp


Plant Family
Rose (Rosaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Spring flowering



There are many species of Hawthorns and many are confusing, as Eloise Butler describes at the bottom of the page. The large Garden specimen is on Geranium Lane. Martha Crone wrote in the April 1961 issue of The Fringed Gentian™ "The trees in May offer many lovely sights, but none finer than when in bloom, especially the wild cherries, plum and hawthorns."

Hawthorns will grow into small trees up to 30 feet in height. Tree or shrub, they have a round-top form with branches having a few long sharp thorns although a few species will have dense thorns. Tree shapes may develop several trunks branching from the lower main stem. Stems of 8 inches diameter would be considered very large. Bark is a scaly dark brown. Twigs are mostly hairless, grayish-brown. Buds are all terminal and have reddish overlapping scales.

The leaves are 1-1/2 to 2+ inches long, ovate to round, stalked, with very shallow lobes above the middle and doubly serrate coarse teeth on the margins. The upper surface is a dull to shiny dark green with sunken veins, the underside paler in color with fine hair on the veins and sparse hair on the surface. The lower teeth, at a minimum, are gland-tipped.

The inflorescence is a loose cluster of 8 to 15 stalked flowers appearing with the new leaves and rising from the leaf axil. As there are no lateral buds, lower clusters and leaves appear at the outer edges of the twigs. Other Hawthorn species can have a different arrangement. The branching stems of the inflorescence have very fine surface hair.

The flowers are 5/8 to 7/8 inches wide, 5-parted, white petals, 10 stamens with ivory filaments and yellowish anthers that turn reddish-brown at pollen maturity. There are 3 or 4 styles. Around the base of the stamens is a cluster of yellowish nectar glands. The calyx has 5 sharply pointed triangular lobes, which persist onto the fruit.

The fruit of this species matures to a fleshy red berry (a pome), 3/8 to 1/2 inch in diameter. Prior to maturity, the calyx lobes of the flower are attached on the immature fruit. The pulp is somewhat sweet and holds 3 or 4 pyrenes (a seed enclosed in a harden outer covering). Fruits of Hawthorns are sometimes called 'haws.' Seed germination requires scarification of the seed, then a warm moist period, followed by a cold moist period, followed by another warm moist period. Each period needs to be at least 90 days. Planted in the ground, they will germinate in the second year.


Habitat: Fireberry Hawthorn and many others will grow in a wide range of soils that do not have acidity. Full sun is best for shapely growth but the plant will grow and flower in the understory if it gets partial sunlight during the season and more sunlight in the spring before the over-story gets dense. The root system goes deep so older specimens should not be transplanted. This is a slow-growing and long-lived plant. Besides seed germination, the plant can be propagated by grafting a cutting onto a suitable rootstock.

Names: The genus Crataegus is from the Greek name for the tree, derived from kratos, meaning 'strength' and alluding to the strength or hardness of the wood. The species name, chrysocarpa, is derived from the Greek chrysos, meaning 'golden' and carpa meaning 'fruit'. Regardless of that, the fruit of this species passes through the golden stage to a deep red which gives this species its current common name of 'Fireberr.' The author name for the plant classification - ‘Ashe’ refers to William Willard Ashe (1872-1932) American forester and botanist, plant collector, member of the Torrey Botanical Club; he was employed in numerous positions by the U.S. Forest Service from 1905 until his death.

Comparisons: As Eloise Butler explains below, Hawthorns are very confusing. There are a number of very similar trees and one must look at the type of thorns, the size of the pome, number of flowers and the leaf. The MN DNR lists 12 species that are native to Minnesota with 7 of those found in Hennepin County. Fortunately botanists have consolidated many species, previously described as separate species or varieties. However the list in North America is still huge. There are 27 previously listed species alone that have been consolidated into C. chrysocarpa. Red Haw is classified as C. chrysocarpa ashe var. chrysocarpa.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Hawthorn flowers Hawthorn flower buds

Above: The white blossoms in spring. 2nd photo - A flower bud cluster rising above the new leaves. Clusters arise from the leaf axils.

Below: The lovely flowers have 10 stamens, ivory filaments, with reddish-brown anthers, and 3 or 4 styles, all rising from a yellowish nectar disc.

Hawthorn flower Hawthorn flowers

Below: Leaves are ovate to round, stalked, with very shallow lobes above the middle and doubly serrate coarse teeth on the margins. 3rd photo - Bark is a scaly dark brown with some thorns still remaining.

Hawthorn Flower cluster Hawthorn leaf Hawthorn Bark

Below: 1st photo - The leaf underside showing the pale color with fine hair on the veins and sparse hair on the leaf surface. 2nd photo - tiny glands at the leaf tooth tips.

leaf underside Leaf gland

Below: 1st photo - Fruit in early to mid-August. Note the reflexed calyx lobes still present on the green berries, 2nd photo - Mature red fruit in Autumn.

Hawthorn green berries Hawthorn

Below: 1st photo - Fruit turning red in late August. 2nd photo - Typical thorns on the slender branches.

Hawthorn Hawthorn

Below: Buds are all terminal and generate both the leaf and flower clusters, all appearing at the same time.

Bud bud breaking


Notes: Hawthorn is native to Minnesota in most counties from the central area northward and a few counties in southern Minnesota. Fireberry Hawthorn is widespread in Minnesota, absent mainly in counties around and south of the Minnesota River. In North America is is found in all the lower Canadian Provinces except British Columbia and in the U.S. it is found in the eastern 2/3rds of the states except for the Old South, and in the west it is found in the mountain ranges at lower elevations.

Hawthorns are indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler simply catalogued 'hawthorns' in her Garden Log as early as April 29, 1907. One early one was listed as Crataegus rotundifolia, which is now classified as C. chrysocarpa Ashe var. chrysocarpa. In her 1926 article Shrubs in the Wild Garden she listed this as one of the 10 most common shrubs in the Wild Garden. The most recent census simply lists Crataegus ssp.

Eloise Butler wrote: "Many are the allusions to the hawthorns of England in poetry and prose. Indeed, the very name, England, calls up to the observer of plants a mental picture of hawthorn thickets and hedges. It is pertinent to ask why writers neglect to extol the American species. For our hawthorn trees or shrubs are of extreme beauty, when covered with their snowy fleece of bloom, or when glowing with the sweet tasting, stony bright red “thorn apples.” The leaves of the hawthorn may have margins varying from toothed to lobed or divided. The thorns may be long and stout, or few and feeble; thus belying the name.

Of all the botanical mazes, that of the hawthorn is the most intricate. In Gray’s seventh edition, no less than sixty-five species of the genus are described, as well as many varieties. Some botanists go so far as to affirm that every individual is a different species. When the ordinary student wearies of cudgeling his brain over minute differences of stamen, nutlet or whatnot, he ignominiously names the species “Crataegus sp.?” or passes on the puzzle to the greatest authority, Professor Sargent, the director of the renowned Arnold Arboretum of Boston. Those desirous of extending their acquaintance of hawthorns may see grouped together in this arboretum the largest collection of both native and foreign species known to the world." Published June 4, 1911, Sunday Minneapolis Tribune (read entire article).

Superstition: There is an old English superstition that bringing Hawthorn blossoms into the house would be followed by illness and death. It was asserted in Medieval times that the smell of the blossoms was similar to the smell from the Great Plaque. It would be years later before botanists would discover that the hawthorn blossom contains the chemical trimethylamine (N(CH3)3, which turns out to be one of the chemicals formed in the decay of animal tissue.

Pests and diseases: Fireberry, like many Hawthorns, is subject to Cedar-hawthorn Rust and fireblight. Cedar-hawthorn rust causes discoloring and yellow to nearly black spots on the leaves, fruit, or new twigs. These spots contain black pimple-like fruiting bodies that produce spores. It is caused by Gymnosporangium globosum The cedar-apple rust can also affect apples and crabapples.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.