Hawthorn trees can typically live up to 250 years, however, one of the oldest specimens found in Nolfolk named “The Hethel Old Thorn”, is reputed to be over 700 years old. The name Hawthorn stems back to the Old English word hagathorn, a combination of "haga" ("hedge") and "thorn". It’s often referred to as The May Tree after the month in which it typically blossoms.

A haven for wildlife, Hawthorn supports up to 300 species of insects and all the creatures that feed on them. The flowers, leaves and berries are a valuable food source for birds and small mammals as well as an important nesting habitat for both.

The Hawthorn has long been an integral part of the British countryside and is steeped in folk law. It is a pagan symbol of fertility and is strongly associated with May Day, not least as the May pole was traditionally made of Hawthorn. It was deemed bad luck to bring Hawthorn blossom into the home as death and illness were sure to follow. The flowers were said to smell of The Great Plague. Scientist have subsequently identified the chemical trimethylamine in the blossom which is also present in decaying meat and responsible for the smell!

Historically referred to as “the bread and cheese tree” the young leaves have a nutty and pleasant taste and are packed full of nutrition. The leaves can be used as a tasty addition to a salad at this time of the year.

Illustration by Joanna Uglow