Now, dear reader, you may or may not know this but my surname is Haw. Haw is an old English word meaning ‘hedge’ but it has another meaning. A haw is the fruit of a hawthorn tree and now that August is here they are ripening. If you look in most hedgerows you will see these red berries beginning to emerge.
The hawthorn is very common on hedgerows but you might also find it in woodland so how can you recognise it? Well firstly the leaves – these are about 6 cm long and have jagged lobes. In the spring you will notice their flowers which grow in clusters. They are white with five petals and have a strong scent.
Now that the haws are ripening you may be tempted to eat some – don’t! If not cooked they can cause stomach upsets though they do have some culinary uses and have been used to make sauces and wine. The wood of the hawthorn is more useful and makes good furniture. It also burns at high temperatures making it a good source of charcoal and firewood.
As well as being useful to us the hawthorn also helps wildlife. Its leaves are eaten by many types of moth larvae, its flowers provide food for dormice as well as bees and other pollinating insects, and the haws themselves provide energy to many species of birds and small mammals.
The hawthorn also has a place in folklore. The tree was a symbol of mortality in the Middle Ages and was under no circumstances to be brought into the home – if it was, then illness and death were sure to follow. People said that the tree’s flowers smelt of the decay and that is probably where the association with death came from. It has since been discovered that one of the chemicals produced by rotting flesh is also given off by hawthorn blossom, maybe as a way to attract flies.
If after reading this you want to know more about the hawthorn then you could take a look at the RSPB’s guide to wildlife. And, after that, you might like to browse our Nature quizzes. We have dozens which are all free to play, including ones devoted to trees and wild flowers. Well worth a look!
Or maybe we have inspired you to find out the meaning of your surname – if so then visit the Surname Database and search for your family name. It might give you some idea of what your ancestors were like. From all of us at Education Quizzes, happy hunting!