This large shrub or small tree is 20-35' tall at maturity. It is has
either a single or multiple trunks (usually the former) and a densely
branched globoid crown. The trunk (or trunks) is relatively short,
spanning 1-1½' across at maturity. Trunk bark is gray-brown,
rough-textured, shallowly furrowed, and divided into irregular scaly
plates. Branch bark is gray and more smooth, while twigs are brown with
white lenticels. Young non-woody shoots are light green and pubescent.
Relatively few thorns develop along the branches; they are 1-2"
long, light gray to nearly black, and usually straight. Alternate
leaves occur along the twigs and young shoots; they are 2-5" long and
2-4" across. Individual leaves are oval in outline and they are
shallowly cleft with 3-5 lobes along both sides of their margins. The
lobes are usually bluntly pointed, rather than rounded. The margins are
serrated or doubly serrated. Leaf bases are slightly cordate to
truncate. The upper leaf surface is medium or yellowish green and
rough-textured from sparse stiff hairs; the lower surface is pale green
and pubescent, especially along the lower sides of the veins. The
slender petioles are ¾-2" long, light green to reddish green, and
pubescent. At the base of each petiole, there is pair of
linear-lanceolate stipules (up to ¼" long) that have serrated margins.
Small corymbs of white flowers are produced from short spur twigs;
these corymbs span about 1½-3" across and they are rather flat-headed.
The flowering stalks of the corymbs are light to reddish green and
pubescent. Individual flowers are about 1" across, consisting of 5
white spreading petals, 5 green sepals that are united at the base, 20
stamens with pale yellow anthers, and an inferior ovary with 4-5
styles. Individual sepals are narrowly lanceolate in shape; they have
conspicuous glandular teeth. The blooming period occurs for about 2
weeks during late spring; the flowers have an unpleasant odor. Fertile
flowers are replaced by small globoid pomes (apple-like fruits) that
become ¾-1" across at maturity during late summer. Young pomes are
light green and pubescent, while mature pomes are yellowish red to
scarlet and hairless (or nearly so). The interior of each mature pome
contains firm flesh that is pale yellow and slightly juicy; it has
an apple-like sweet-tart flavor. Each pome also contains 4-5 chunky
seeds. The root system is woody and branching. Downy Hawthorn spreads
by reseeding itself.
The preference is full or
partial sun, moist to mesic conditions, and fertile loamy soil.
However, other kinds of soil and drier conditions are also tolerated.
The leaves of Downy Hawthorn are vulnerable to several foliar diseases,
including cedar-hawthorn rust, scab, and leaf blight. As a result, the
leaves are often battered from disease by the end of summer and usually
succumb to premature leaf-drop.
Downy Hawthorn is common in the northern half of Illinois, while in the
southern half of the state it is occasional or absent (see Distribution
). Habitats include openings in bottomland woodlands,
savannas, woodland borders, thickets, banks of rivers, and abandoned
pastures. Downy Hawthorn is a pioneer species that is intolerant of the
dense shade that is cast by canopy trees. It is rarely cultivated as a
landscape shrub or tree.
The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract
small bees (Halictid & Andrenid), flies (Syrphid, Calliphorid,
Muscid, etc.), and miscellaneous beetles. Other insects feed on the
foliage, flowers, plant juices, or wood of Crataegus spp.
(Hawthorns). These species include caterpillars of the butterfly, Satyrium
Hairstreak), caterpillars of the moth
Underwing), and several other moths (see
insect feeders include Eriosoma
(Woolly Hawthorn Aphid) and
other aphids, Glossonotus
(Quince Treehopper), Corythucha
(Hawthorn Lace Bug), Lygidea mendax
(Apple Red Bug) and other
plant bugs, the flea beetle Crepidodera
, the larvae of Saperda
(Thorn Limb Borer) and other long-horned beetles, and
(Hawthorn Blossum Weevil). Hawthorns are
plants of several leafhoppers: Balcanocerus
. Many upland gamebirds and songbirds
eat the fruit of
hawthorns (see Bird Table
), as do
such mammals as black bears, foxes,
coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and tree squirrels. White-Tailed Deer and
the Cottontail Rabbit occasionally browse on the twigs and foliage.
Because of their dense branching structure and thorns, Downy Hawthorn
and other hawthorns provide nesting habitat for the Yellow-Breasted
Chat, Brown Thrasher, and other birds. They also provide excellent
protective cover for birds and other wildlife during the summer.
The Arboretum at the University of
Illinois in Urbana, Illinois.
Downy Hawthorn is one of the more common Crataegus spp.
Illinois, particularly in the northern half of the state. It is
relatively easy to recognize (for a hawthorn) because of its pubescent
leaves, pubescent shoots, and pubescent immature fruits. The showy
fruits of this species are among the first to mature among hawthorns,
although they remain on the tree for only a short time before falling
to the ground. The edible fruits have a pleasant flavor, although they
are seedy. Across its range, there is some variability in the shape of
the leaves and other characteristics of this small tree or shrub. As a
result, many former species (Crataegus
, and C.
) are now regarded as different
forms of Crataegus