Our Lummi Island Community

Wildflower – Black Hawthorn

Black Hawthorn – by Dal Neitzel
Black Hawthorn – by Dal Neitzel
Black Hawthorn – by Dal Neitzel

Black Hawthorn is a pretty interesting plant. Right now they are in bloom. Clusters of small white flowers that will turn into bunches of small black fruit in a month. They are native to North America and in addition to Black Hawthorns, there are Red Hawthorns, Downey Hawthorns, Scarlet Hawthorns, Frosted Hawthorns and many more…They are generally shaped and sized like a small, bushy tree and they have stiff, sharp thorns.

Lots of animals depend on the fruit, so they are considered highly valuable ecological trees. Humans eat them too…but more often the tiny but abundant fruits…called “poms” or “apples” are turned into jams and jellies. They have also had many medicinal uses among us humans including as a diuretic and as a a treatment for high blood pressure.

Black Hawthorns can be trimmed into a thick hedge and because of their thorns they are often grown as a security fence.

Interestingly, in Ireland they are considered very important and it is not advised to cut one down because they are the home of the faeries and we should not mess with the little people.

Other common names for them are Haw, Thornapple and Hawberry.

The Black Hawthorn is so named because its fruit is black. In our area there are two varieties of Black Hawthorn…Douglas Black Hawthorn and Suksdorfii Black Hawthorn. The Douglas variety is much more common in the San Juan Islands so it comes as a surprise that there is a beautiful specimen of the Suksdorfii variety over on the Curry Preserve.

The subtle difference between the two is that the Suksdorfii variety is more tree-like and, less subtly, its delicate white flower has twenty stamens rather than the ten found in the Douglass variety.

You can count the twenty stamens in the close-up image of the flower…The stamens are the slender thread-like structures (called filaments) with dark globs on the top (called anthers). Together these two structures form a single stamen and I can see twenty of them in that flower by counting the easily distinguished dark anthers. If you are out in the field you’ll probably need a hand lens to count the stamens.

Although it’s sorta fun to be able to tell the difference between our two Black Hawthorns…it really isn’t necessary. Calling either of them a Black Hawthorn is accurate enough for horse-shoes and many field identification books don’t really distinguish between the two.

There are Black Hawthorn trees along the beach trail behind the church and I have a small grove of them in my woods. But individual trees show up on the forest edges in many places on the island.

You can find this particular Suksdorfii Black Hawthorn Tree on the Curry. If you park in the lower meadow by the gardens and walk up the trail toward the upper meadow, the tree is 80ft north of the resting bench, right on the trail.

Dal Neitzel

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Updated: 2021/06/17 @ 5:58 pm Tark Henderson

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