Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database

Crataegus douglasii (Douglas Hawthorn, Black Hawthorn)



 Plantae – Plants


 Tracheobionta – Vascular plants


 Spermatophyta – Seed plants


 Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants


 Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons






 Rosaceae – Rose family


 Crataegus L. – hawthorn


 Crataegus douglasii Lindl. – black hawthorn

Note: Throughout the years I've written short articles for our website's home pages (home pages are the front page of a website) about these plants. They are now included at the bottom of this page, and are illustrated by botanical drawings and paintings, some of which are from books published from 1500 - 1900.

This delightful tree grows slowly to 10,’ sometimes reaching 20 - 30.’ A hardy tree, it is indigenous along the coast between Alaska and California and inland from New Mexico to Saskatchewan, USDA zones 3–9.

Black Hawthorn is distinguished by its pendulous branches with dark, shiny, deeply serrated leaves and sharp thorns ½ -1” long, and dense, clusters of intricate, rose-like flowers - simply spectacular. In restoration, the deep roots stabilize the soil. In the garden, this tree attracts birds, butterflies and the most welcomed of garden visitors, the ladybug. This versatile tree prefers full sun and is drought resistant while also tolerating brief periods of flooding.

The black berries or haws are edible and make tasty pies and preserves.

Description: This charming deciduous species, native to the Pacific northwest and beyond, may be happened upon while ambling along a streamside path or meandering your way through a damp forest. From afar the tree’s outline is an arcing crown of sturdy, spreading branches. As you investigate up close, you’ll notice Black Hawthorn’s most distinguishing feature; glossy, reddish twigs armed with straight one-inch long razor sharp spines that alternate along its length. These beautiful natives are an ideal addition to nearly any landscape.

Black Hawthorn is a small tree that can reach a height of 20 to 30 feet and a foot in diameter, though the species also grows as a brambly thicket-forming shrub.

Photo at left courtesy of Walter Siegmund

The tree’s rough, scaly bark is gray when older but new growth is smoother and more of a reddish-brown color. Dark green leaves with contrasting paler undersides emerge in an alternating pattern during spring accompanied by delicate white flowers. The ovate or obovate leaves, broadest around the middle and narrowing towards the tip like an egg, grow 1 to 3 inches in length and 5/8 to 2 inches in width. Along the margin of the leathery leaves are shallow serrations, or saw-like teeth. Sometimes you may also find the margin to be slightly lobed.

Five-petaled perfect flowers, approximately one-half inch across, are suspended on slender stalks of various lengths forming a flat-topped, or corymbose, inflorescence found in leaf axils and in terminal clusters. The flower’s center contains 10 to 20 attractive pink stamens. It should be mentioned that the flowers sometimes emit a somewhat “fishy” odor, a smell which attracts its natural pollinators including butterflies and midges.

Another of its very unique features appears in fall when the clustered fruit, fleshy apple-like pomes, ripen to a shiny purplish-black hue. The edible ebony fruits can reach a diameter of one-half inch and contain a thick, yellow pulp surrounding a pit comprised of 1-5 nutlets.

Habitat and Range: Crataegus douglasii, named for the Scottish botanical explorer David Douglas, is found growing across a continuum of environments and conditions. From Alaska south to California and as far east as Michigan. The species can be found growing in open woodlands, riparian corridors, wet meadows, thickets, roadsides and coastal bluffs from low to mid elevations. It thrives in the moist soils of stream valleys but also endures drier upland environments.

Ornamental Values: While this species is less “showy” than its ornamental cultivars, its simple beauty and prodigious hardiness make it an ideal species for planting in your yard or garden. The reported hardiness rating for this species is Zone 4. The plant’s natural range includes southern Alaska, British Columbia south to central California, from the western coast to eastern Nevada, and also populates areas near Lake Superior. Ideal soil conditions vary from a slightly acidic to a neutral pH. For increased fruit production, plant the tree in an open, sunny location. However, the tree also grows well in partially shaded areas. Black Hawthorn is great magnet to attract beneficial insects that help keep problematic pest populations under control.

Native Plant Gardening/Wildlife Habitat: If you are creating a native plant garden or are interested in providing habitat for local fauna, Black Hawthorn has much to offer. The briary shrub is ideal for creating hedges or natural barriers. These thorny brambles provide protection for nesting and resting birds as well as small mammals.

Butterfly larvae feed on the leaves and the flower’s nectar attracts both hummingbirds and adult butterflies.

In the chill of winter the berries supply nourishment for over-wintering birds.

Restoration and Mitigation Values: The strong, deep root system of Black Hawthorn and its ubiquitous distribution across the landscape make it a valuable addition to restoration or mitigation plans. The tree adapts well to disturbed sites and is superb for soil and streambank stabilization projects. Native hawthorns also tolerate drought well, once established.

Other species often found associated with Black Hawthorn include Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus).

Historical and Cultural Uses: Native Americans utilized many parts of this plant. Its strong wood was fashioned into digging sticks and handles for tools and weapons. The genus name Crataegus is taken from the Greek word kratos that means “strength.”

The razor-sharp thorns were used for piercing ears, lancing boils and making fish hooks.

The bark and shoots were burned and mixed with ashes and grease to concoct black face paint for ritual purposes.

Historically, hawthorn species were used for building hedges and many cultivars have adorned ornamental English gardens. The common name hawthorn comes from an Anglo-Saxon word haguthorn that is translated into “a fence with thorns.” The English affinity for hawthorns extends to the traditional use of its beautiful blossoms in May Day celebrations and to poetry where the tree often symbolizes the spirit of spring.

Edible and Medicinal Uses: Hawthorn berries are best gathered as soon as they ripen. Watch out for the fruit’s cherry-sized pit! You can eat them right off the tree or collect a basketful for baking. The succulent berries are excellent for jellies, jams, pies and tarts.

Black Hawthorn is said to have been used traditionally by Native Americans to strengthen the heart and thin the blood. The bark contains properties that are said to be beneficial for reducing inflammations and alleviating venereal diseases, diarrhea and dysentery.

NOTE: Please use caution when preparing or eating any parts of a plant. Identification of the species and knowledge of a plant’s toxicity are both essential before using any plant species medicinally or otherwise. Please consult with a heath professional before attempting to treat any ailment.

Propagation Techniques:

Seeds - If you are interested in growing this tree, start by gathering the clusters of fruit in early fall. The berries should then be placed in a tub of water and macerated until the flesh is separated from the seeds. Most of the viable seeds should sink to the bottom while the rest of the fruit floats on top.  Remove the seeds, clean them and lay them out to dry at room temperature for several weeks. The seeds will require some pre-treatments before germination will occur. The thick endocarp on the seed coating requires a treatment with acid. Depending on the thickness, the seeds should be soaked for at least half an hour and possibly up to 3 hours in an acidic solution. The seeds can then be placed in a moist medium and cold stratified at low temperatures for 3 to 4 months.

Cuttings - This species does not fare well when grown from cuttings.

Common Diseases: While many of the cultivated European varieties of the species Crataegus are susceptible to leaf blight, the native species are impervious to this disease. However, according to studies done at Ohio University, the native species are susceptible to rust diseases when rust is prevalent in the area. The main perennial host of rust is juniper and the problem can be easily remedied when juniper is removed from the surrounding vicinity. Otherwise, the rust can be successfully treated with a fungicide.

From Homepage November 3, 2001

The northwest native Black Hawthorn is a great native shrub. The outstanding fall color fairly glows as if lit by an inner candle, but that's not it's best feature. In a wildlife habitat, small birds and animals love to take shelter within it's welcoming branches because the fierce thorns keep larger animals out. What better place to build a nest or take a break from foraging!

Excellent in hedgerows, groupings or as a focus plant, we also suggest planting the Black Hawthorn under a bedroom window. Now there is a burglar or "peeping Tom" deterrent that does not need electricity to work.

Photos We Share!

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Thank you to the following references for their invaluable information:

Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon (1994)

Western Forests, A National Audubon Society Nature Guide by Stephen Whitney (1985)

Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon (1994)

Western Forests, A National Audubon Society Nature Guide by Stephen Whitney (1985)

Flora of the Pacific Northwest by C.L. Hitchcock & A. Cronquist (1973)

Trees, Shrubs, & Flowers to know in British Columbia & Washington by C.P. Lyons (1995)

Collecting, Processing and Germinating Seeds of Wildland Plants by J.A. Young and C.G. Young (1986)

Trees to know in Oregon by Oregon State University Extension Service & Oregon Department of Forestry, Extension Circular 1450 (1995)

The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation from seed to tissue culture by M.A. Dirr and C.W. Heuser, Jr. (1987)

Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest by Russell Link, University of Washington Press & Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (1999)

US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (2002, February) http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Gardenbed.com http://www.gardenbed.com

BCAdventure.com http://www.bcadventure.com/adventure/wilderness/forest/

Contact:  star@chillirose.com ~ Copyright 2012 © Wallace W. Hansen ~ All rights reserved