The botanical name is crataegus, and to the genus belong about two hundred species of shrubs or small trees, with deciduous leaves, widespread in their natural state in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America; they belong to the Rosaceae family, and the common name is due to the fact that the most widespread species in Europe and Italy, have white flowers, similar to very small simple roses, and the branches bear very sharp thorns.
Usually it is called hawthorn crataegus monogyna, a species widespread in Europe, but the term is commonly used to indicate any crataegus, and not only.
In Italian gardens, even in street trees, we usually find crataegus monogyna and crataegus laevigata (which offers the advantage of having a beautiful pink or red bloom) and their various hybrids created over the centuries; in nature, in the Italian woods, we also find crataegus azarolus.
These plants have dark green, glossy foliage with a lobed shape; the flowers are small, and bloom in early spring, gathered in corymbs, or in small bunches; the flowers are followed by small, edible apples, although the taste is sometimes slightly acidic; the fruits are typically bright red in color, but there are species with yellow, green, or purple fruits; crataegus azarolus has slightly larger fruits than the other species, and belongs to the group of ancient and forgotten fruits, the azzeruoli were once cultivated as a source of cheap fruit, and with the tiny apples they prepared sauces, compotes and jams.
The shrubs do not become very large, generally do not exceed 3-5 meters in height; they are generally used in the garden as single specimens, it is infrequent to see hawthorns positioned to form hedges, despite their erect and compact habit.
Being part of the spontaneous Italian flora, it is easy to understand how hawthorn can be safely grown in the garden; it is a completely rustic shrub, which is grown outdoors all year round even in regions where the winters are very cold, with minimum night temperatures below -10 / -15 ° C.
Hawthorns are planted in sunny or semi-shaded places, where they can still enjoy at least a few hours of sunshine every day; they love calcareous soils, and fear particularly acid soils, so it is good to avoid placing a hawthorn in the flowerbed of acidophilic plants.
These are low-maintenance plants, which generally do not require great care, if they have been in the home for at least 3-4 years; a recently planted shrub may need summer watering, especially in case of prolonged drought, and also of regular fertilizations, to be supplied in spring and autumn, using manure, or slow release granular fertilizer.
Prunings are generally only for cleaning, as hawthorns tend to form a dense and rounded crown, without the need to form it; therefore, it usually intervenes after flowering, slightly compacting the development of the shrub, and removing the branches ruined by winter weather.
In recent years in Emilia Romagna, a bacterial disease that affects rosacea in particular has spread similarly to an epidemic; the plants most sensitive to this disease are pear and apple trees, very cultivated in this region; to limit their spread, until 2013 it is forbidden to plant new hawthorns throughout the Emilia Romagna region. This is not because the bacterium is believed to come from hawthorns, but because a disease affecting a garden shrub is more easily underestimated or can even go unnoticed by the superficial gardener, and therefore it often happens that uncontrolled epidemics develop in the gardens of residential areas and uncontrollable, which quickly also pass to fruit and vegetable crops.