Cock-Spur Hawthorn
Crataegus crus-galli
Rose family (Rosaceae)

Description: This is a large shrub or small tree up to 25' tall, usually with a single trunk and a flat-topped crown. The crown has abundant twigs and spreading branches. The short trunk is up to ' across; its bark is gray, rough, and scaly. Usually there are branched thorns up to 4" long on the trunk. Branch bark is gray, slightly rough, and thorny. Twigs are yellowish brown, reddish brown, or gray; they are also glabrous and white-dotted from small lenticels. Young shoots are light green, terete, glabrous, and white-dotted from small lenticels. Both the twigs and young shoots produce unbranched thorns up to 4" long that are either straight or slightly curved. Alternate leaves occur along the twigs and shoots. Individual leaves are 1-3" long and about one-third as much across; they are oblanceolate or broadly elliptic (usually the former) and finely serrated along their outer margins. Leaf bases are narrowly wedge-shaped, while their tips are usually rounded to nearly truncate. The leathery leaves are pale green to dark green above (becoming more dark with age), and pale green with reticulated venation below; both the upper and lower sides are glabrous. The petioles are up to " long, light green, and glabrous.

Corymbs (flat-headed panicles) of flowers about 2-3" across are produced from some of the leaf axils. The branching peduncle and pedicels of the corymbs are light green and glabrous. Each flower is up to " across, consisting of 5 white spreading petals, a short green calyx with 5 teeth, 10 stamens (rarely up to 20) with either pale yellow or pink anthers, and a pistil with 2-3 styles. The calyx is glabrous and its teeth are linear-lanceolate with smooth margins. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer, lasting about 7-10 days. The flowers have an unpleasant scent. Fertile flowers are replaced by globoid pomes up to " across that become red at maturity. Each pome contains 1-3 seeds; its flesh is somewhat dry and bitter. The pomes often persist into the winter. The deciduous leaves turn red or yellow during autumn.

The preference is full sun, mesic to dry conditions, and soil containing loam, clay, or rocky material. Cockspur Hawthorn is vulnerable to hawthorn-rust and other disease organisms.

Range & Habitat: The native Cock-Spur Hawthorn is occasional to locally common in most areas of Illinois, except the NW section of the state, where it is uncommon or absent (see Distribution Map). Habitats consist of open upland woodlands, rocky woodlands, upland savannas, thickets, limestone glades, fence rows, areas along railroads, roadsides, and abandoned fields. This shrub (or small tree) is a pioneer species that colonizes open areas where competition from other woody vegetation has been reduced.

Faunal Associations:
The nectar and pollen of the ill-smelling flowers attract a variety insects, including honeybees, bumblebees, Halictid bee, masked bees (Hylaeus spp.), Andrenid bees, Syrphid flies, Calliphorid flies, dance flies, miscellaneous wasps, beetles, and butterflies. A variety of insects feed on the foliage, fruit, wood, and other parts of Cockspur Hawthorn and other hawthorns. These insects include the wood-boring larvae of such beetles as Agrilus crataegi (Hawthorn Agrilus) and Saperda fayi (Thorn-Limb Borer); the weevil Anthonomus quadrigibbus (Apple Curculio); the aphids Carolinaia crataegi, Eriosoma crataegi (Woolly Hawthorn Aphid), and Nearctaphis crataegifoliae; the leafhoppers Erythridula bitincta, Erythridula funesta, and Erythridula repleta; the treehopper Glossonotus crataegi; the plant bugs Blepharidopterus provancheri and Lygidea mendax (Apple Red Bug); Corythucha cydoniae (Hawthorn Lace Bug); larvae of the sawfly Profenusa canadensis (Hawthorn Leafminer); and the fruit-boring larvae of Rhagoletis pomonella (Apple Maggot). The Insect Table has a more complete list of these species. Caterpillars of the butterflies Satyrium liparops (Striped Hairstreak) and Limenitis arthemis astyanax (Red-Spotted Purple) feed on the foliage of these small tree or shrubs, as do the caterpillars of such moths as Catocala crataegi (Hawthorn Underwing), Choreutis pariana (Apple & Thorn Skeletonizer), and Coptotriche crataegifoliae (see the Moth Table for a more complete listing of these species). Hawthorn fruits are consumed by various birds, including the Ruffed Grouse, Robin, Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, and Northern Mockingbird. Because of its dense branching structure and thorniness, Cock-Spur Hawthorn provides ideal nesting habitat for the Brown Thrasher, Yellow-Breasted Chat, and other songbirds. In open areas, the Loggerhead Shrike uses the thorns to impale the smaller songbirds that are its prey.

Photographic Location:
An open woodland on a bluff along the Maumee River in NW Ohio, and along the edge of Busey Woods in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: Because of its distinctive oblanceolate leaves, this is one of the easiest hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) to identify. Wild forms of Cockspur Hawthorn are exceptionally spiny, but there is a spineless form in cultivation. At one time, this shrub (or small tree) was divided into several species on the basis of minor differences in the floral structure, leaf shape, thorniness, or fruiting characteristics, but they are presently considered variations of the same species by most authorities.