Wyoming’s Native Crataegus Tree

Cratageus is a very adaptable Wyoming native tree suitable for a variety of uses. It can be pruned into a hedge, left to grow into a multi-stemmed clump 15 – 25 feet tall, and  I wonder if it couldn’t be groomed into a single stemmed ornamental tree. The University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension named Cratageus as one of five suitable tree species which are under utilized in Wyoming planned landscapes. It is noted to be fairly drought tolerant once established, and able to grow in sun to dappled shade. (See Five Underutilised Trees for Wyoming Rural Landscapes at the Barnyards and Backyards website.)

Crataegus is in the Rose family and has white to pink spring flowers and a small ‘pome,’ a common fruit of the Rose family. Apples are the most familiar pome and the fruit of Crataegus is reminiscent of miniature apples. The thorns of Crataegus are anything but miniature. Easily up to two inches long, they mean business.

Crataegus macracanthaCrataegus hawthorn fruitThese  photos are C. macracantha with its beautiful, bright red apple like fruits. This 20 foot multi stemmed specimen is growing along Garden Creek just south of Casper, WY.

While the fruit is not poisonous, humans don’t find it very tasty. Birds, however, utilize Crataegus throughout the winter. The US Forest Service rates Crataegus pretty high for wildlife value. On their FEIS website  the following description occurs.  “Douglas hawthorn thickets produce an abundant amount of food and cover for wildlife species.  Dried fruits and stems provide autumn food for frugivorous birds such as blue and sharp-tailed grouse in Washington and Idaho.  Mule deer and small mammals consume dry Douglas hawthorn fruits in Utah during winter.  Marks and Marks (1) found that sharp-tailed grouse in western Idaho fed exclusively on Douglas hawthorn fruits.”

Locally, I have seen Hawthorne growing along small streams and on semi dry slopes. I have seen it grow into impenetrable thickets which make ideal cover for over-wintering birds. I would think it would excel as a protective hedge – especially with its large thorns. Although I would definitely avoid it in areas where children would play.

With its spring time flowers, attractive leaves, adaptable growth forms and eye catching fall fruit, Crataegus, or Hawthorn, deserves some research and trials as we continue to develop suitable trees for the arid west landscaper.

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