Beautiful mystery, aren’t they? We grabbed these photos before the Hawthorn tree leafed out so the thorns stood out.
Also called the thornapple, hawberry and May-tree, because of course it blooms in May–right now!
The bees are abuzz over it, fighting many other insects for the pleasure. We squirrels will stand clear until fall–then we can’t resist the little ‘pomes,’ the fruit, the hawthorn grows–and then we will be fighting the cardinals and cedar waxwings!
Humans have long noticed this tree, of which some species stay shrubby. The blossoms are thought to bring fortune, and for the Greeks, hope. They carried flowering branches in their wedding precessions. But our wildly variable weather here in Virginia this year makes this Scottish saying true: “Ne’er cast a cloot til Mey’s oot.” Never shed your clothes before the May flowers (Hawthorn!) have bloomed.
Hickory and I were crossing a grassy patch and skirted into the shade of a tree–only to veer away again.
“Whew” Hickory’s tail twitched, and not in a good way.
“Something died.” I started looking around. But the odor of rot came from above us… “The flowers in that tree?”
Sure enough, we climbed the trunk–and only the trunk because the limbs sprouted wicked thorns–and got close enough to verify that the blossoms on the tree were causing the stink.
We went back to Miz Flora, who told us the offender was a Hawthorn tree. We squirrels aren’t the only ones who think those tree flowers smell like rot. You humans have done enough research to learn that the flowers are producing a chemical–trimethylamine–which attracts carrion beetles that normally eat dead things. The beetles travel from flower to flower and pollinate the Hawthorns.
“Too bad,” Hickory chittered. “It’s such a pretty little flower.”
“Heh.” Miz Flora laughed. “Fewer humans will pick it now, which means more of those hawthorn fruits in the fall for us.”
Quite a few fruits and berries out there, even in the fall.
Can you identify this one?
I’ll check back later!
Sorry to be so late–chillier day here and we wanted to get some more gathering done before a freeze… which Ms. Flora says will improve the flavor of these Hawthorn pomes. Yes, they look like berries to me, too. To be honest, we’re not really sure about that freeze business.
See those thorns? And the branches are so tight together, it’s almost impossible to get through them. For good sized squirrel’s like us, anyway. We are just guessing the berries aren’t very good now because the birds have left them alone. They do love them on a winter’s day, especially the cardinals.
This is not a native tree, but planted in out neighborhood. Commonly they used to be planted as hedgerow trees–because of the close branching–and the ‘pomes’ were gathered by humans for jellies and such.
Please note, we have to say we are not recommending you humans go out and try them based on our say-so. Always check potential with reliable sources, not the word of a squirrel.
Last year Hickory and I said ‘no way’ to climbing a nearby Hawthorn tree and braving its thorns. But this year we had to give it a try because the fruits just looked too luscious and filling. We younger squirrels had not tried them, but Miz Flora told us the apple-looking fruits are edible for us—as always we DO NOT recommend humans eat the foods squirrels do.
We made a careful path up the trunk and along the limbs to the red fruits.
“It’ll be tricky in the winter,” Hickory said.
“Do we even know if these fruits will last that long?” I asked him.
At that point we heard a squawk and looked up. Cedar Waxwings flew into the branches above.
“Aw-aw,” Hickory chattered. “They’ve eaten most of them already.”
Here’s one crop of fruits Nutmeg and I will not be collecting.
There are native and ornamental Hawthorns—of the Crataegus genus, Miz Flora had time to tell me—but they are too confusing to tell apart for us squirrels. And why bother? As the name states, we can’t get to them with these thorns.
This is a crop the songbirds, in particular Northern Cardinals, will feed on in the dead of winter. Hmm, I bet it’s one of those that tastes better after frozen.