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Hawthorn Creates Cover and Food for Wildlife

No two snowflakes are alike, and the same can almost be said of hawthornes.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is a member of the rose family, and some species can reach 40 feet in height. Anywhere from 30 to more than 1,000 species of hawthorns have been identified in the United States, and individual species are often impossible to identify.

Hawthorns, however, do share common traits: dense foliage, tangled limbs and sharp spines that can grow longer than two inches. Sometimes straight and sometimes curved, the spines keep predators at bay and make hawthorn a favorite nesting tree for songbirds.

Wild turkeys and other game animals favor hawthorns as well. In the spring, grouse feed on the buds, and deer browse the young leaves. "By fall, hawthorns produce fruit, or hips, which remain on the limb well into the cold months," said Bryan Burhans, NWTF Director of Land Management Programs. "The longevity of its fruit makes this shrub important to wild turkeys, pheasant, grouse, rabbits and deer during the winter months."

People are also fond of hawthorns and sometimes make jams with the hips. In many areas, hawthorn is planted as an ornamental and its thick foliage makes a great hedge. The hawthorn's crooked limbs make handsome walking sticks. And tea made from dried hawthorn leaves is often prescribed by folk doctors to help lower high blood pressure.

In the wild, hawthorns range from Canada to Florida to the western states, and can be found in deciduous forests, pine forests, forest edges and even pastures, where they are often considered a nuisance. In the spring, the shrub bears many small, white flowers, and in autumn, the foliage turns red, yellow or orange.

Planting tips

The flowers on hawthorns are bisexual, so you can plant a single tree or several scattered throughout an area. For best results, place a Nutri-Pak slow-release fertilizer pack in the ground near newly planted trees.

How to order

Hawthorn seedlings are available through the National Wild Turkey Federation's Project HELP (Habitat Enhancement Land Program). To place an order or receive a free catalog, call 800-THE-NWTF or click here.


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