The hawthorn is a striking tree which is grown all over the world for its ornamental beauty.
It features stunning foliage, vivid berries, blossoms, and architectural branches, each season showcasing a different side to each.
It’s so popular and easy to hybridize, which means it’s found throughout the world, with nearly countless varieties.
Some varieties can reach up to 50 feet in height, and these come from the rose plant family.
While you may be familiar with the tree itself, did you know that the flowers carry their own symbolism?
Behind The Name: What Does ‘Hawthorn’ Mean?
‘Hawthorn’, the common name, comes from the Old English word ‘haw’ for hedge. This is derived from the Anglo-Saxon haguthorn, which translates to ‘fence with thorns’, which describes the tree perfectly, as it can also be grown as a hedge.
The genus name, Crataegus, is a compound of two Greek words. Kratos, which means ‘strength’, as the wood is incredibly difficult to break, and Akis, which means ‘sharp’, referring to the thorns which some species have.
But what about the flowers?
The Meaning Behind Hawthorn Flowers
The blooms produced on the hawthorn tree are traditionally linked to all forms of affection, whether that’s love linked to a romantic partner, or something more platonic which is equally important in your life.
The blossom on a hawthorn tree also symbolizes beauty and grace. These gorgeous trees are often grown solely for the flowers which appear in May, but evidence has suggested that they have started flowering as early as April in the past 30 years.
The meaning behind the flowers is also linked to aspects of the tree itself, and this is where some of the symbolism comes from.
Hawthorn flowers are also a celebration of self-expression and individuality, especially when it comes to creative expression. This is probably due to the unique appearance of the tree when it is in bloom.
Because the wood of the hawthorn tree is so hardy and usually produces thorns, the flowers are also linked to sanctuary.
Some believe that planting a hawthorn tree in your garden will bestow some protection on your home. It can also be a reminder to be on your guard.
Hawthorn flowers are also synonymous with fertility. The trees themselves produce a plethora of leaves, berries, and flowers, and all of these take a significant amount of energy to produce, and it thrives no matter the season.
As the hawthorn tree can live for hundreds of years when grown in the right conditions, the symbolism behind the flowers is also linked to prosperity and a long, full life.
What’s the Cultural Significance Behind a Hawthorn Tree?
The flowers of a hawthorn tree are one of the birth flowers for May.
Not only that, but they’ve been used to celebrate the first day of May for many centuries, though the bloom time has gotten less accurate since the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752.
The flowers represent optimism, and in Ancient Greece, they were used for weddings, as well as offerings to altars of Hymenaeus, the god of marriage.
In the UK, there’s some folklore surrounding the hawthorn that suggests if you uproot or otherwise harm a hawthorn tree, you invite a lot of bad luck into your life.
There is also a Gaelic superstition surrounding the hawthorn tree, which continues the symbolism of good and bad luck.
If you were to cut a hawthorn when it is not in flower, this is supposed to invite misfortune. In May, when it is in full bloom, it’s often cut and used as decoration for Beltane, which is the Gaelic May Day celebration.
In the Victorian language of flowers, the hawthorn symbolizes hope.
What Does a Hawthorn Flower Tattoo Represent?
Hawthorn flowers aren’t a common subject for a tattoo, but they have a lot of aesthetic beauty to them.
Not only that, but hawthorn flower tattoos symbolize optimism, protection, welcoming the future and all of the possibilities it may bring, as well as longevity, knowledge which is passed down through generations, and good luck.
When is a Hawthorn Flower a Good Gift?
Hawthorn flowers are the perfect symbol to express your love for someone, although they are heavily fragranced, and the smell divides people into two groups: people who love it, and people who cannot stand it.
The smell of a hawthorn flower has a spicy, almost almond-like scent, and some people say it reminds them of death.
This isn’t a million miles from being true, as the blooms produce a chemical called trimethylamine, which is released when animal tissue starts to break down.
When the Great Plague descended, the symbolism of the tree shifted to become unlucky, as it reminded people of plague.
So when should you actually give someone hawthorn flowers?
Well, when given as a cut flower, these blooms don’t last long, and the scent may not give off the message you actually want to send someone.
Instead, why not give someone a hawthorn tree? As it can last for hundreds of years, and the flowers will come back year after year, there’s a lot of positive symbolism associated with the tree itself, when the flowers are regarded as part of a whole.
Giving a hawthorn tree to someone as a gift can carry a multitude of meanings, including a celebration of achievement and knowledge, a wish for them to prosper, and optimism for the future.