Bee-friendly plants series: Hawthorn

Hawthorn bushes bloom profusely in late May through June. They are an edge plant and enjoy the sun. The bushes are an excellent source of nectar and pollen for honeybees; they are just not numerous enough here to be a significant contribution to a bee’s larder in most locations. In fall and winter the berries, or “haws” are food for birds and jelly ingredients for people. Hawthorns are prickly customers: I pruned our hawthorn hedge one year, then ran over the prunings with our tractor and got a flat tire when a thorn punctured it. Lesson learned. I had planted a row of white spruce to make a windbreak when we had cows and then had the bright idea of fronting the spruce with hawthorn so the cattle wouldn’t push into the spruce planting. A neighbor had some hawthorn, and thanks to the birds pooping the seeds, there were lots of little bushes to transplant. I’d heard of hawthorn hedges being a big thing in England so was trying to copy their idea. For this post I’ve learned a lot more about hawthorn hedges and it is a fascinating topic. The British hedges are made in many different ways according to local traditions. First the small bushes are planted in a row a couple of feet apart. When they reach eight feet high they can be partially cut near the ground, then bent over and tied to stakes. The bent over part continues to grow and flower and new shoots also come up from the partially cut stump. Apparently the hedges need renovating every twenty years, so they are not maintenance free. Hawthorn with its thorns is the main means of stock containment, but many other kinds of bushes, such as hazel and willow, can be incorporated or can volunteer in the hedge. These hedges would make wonderful habitat for birds and other wildlife and provide abundant food for bees. Hawthorn hedges were “the thing” until the invention of barbed wire in the USA in the 1860’s and now hedges are in general decline. Pity, because hedges do more for diversity than barbed wire does. Wikipedia says that as recently as 1946 there were 500,000 miles of hawthorn hedge in England. There are some existing English hawthorn hedges dating back 1,000 years: one called Judith’s Hedge was created for William the Conqueror’s sister’s farm. Hedges do take away from the amount of land available for cultivation, but with our concerns about pollinator decline, they might be part of the fix. Ghoulish factoid: Southern Slavs thought a hawthorn stake was the best way to do in a vampire

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