Friday, 5 August 2022

 A Forest Sounds Like a Ship at Sea:

Don't sit under the Hawthorn Tree ...

Day 17: Remote Residency at Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen, Ireland, 7/18/22 to 8/13/22,  Maria Driscoll McMahon checking in from New York State

Blossoms from a Whitethorn tree near Skibbereen, Ireland
Photo taken by Margaret Manning

Many thanks to Margaret Manning for the photograph she took of  Whitethorn (Hawthorn) blossoms as they grow in Ireland. All other photographs on this page were taken by me in Ithaca, NY on August 4, 2022.

My trip to Cornell Botanical Garden and F.R. Newman Arboretum was a success. I found many of the things I was looking for - the trees (except for the Scots Pine and Aspen - I didn't look for everything on the list this trip) - and was even able to find the rain we all have been looking for!  The showers were most welcome as we have been experiencing a terrible drought and oppressive heat. The downpour was cool relief for the parched landscape; also, people who know me well know that I love walking in the rain!

I got some help locating the sites of my trees of interest from the person behind the desk at the Botanical Garden Visitor Center so finding a few species amongst 4,000 trees was not as overwhelming as it might otherwise have been. 

Each tree, each plant,  is fascinating in its history, its botany, and its physical manifestation and deserves its own post.  I will focus, first, on the Hawthorn Tree, also called "thorn apple," "May Tree," "Thornberry."  The Irish version of the tree, Crataegus monogynaI, seems quite similar in appeance and character. I was so intrigued with this tree because I had read that it is one of three "fairy trees" of Ireland - the triad, Oak Ash and Thorn.

The unassuming cockspur hawthorn tree (Crataegus crus-galli) is easily overlooked!

Cockspur Hawthorn 

In Ireland, the Hawthorn tree is so laden with myth, legend, and superstition, at least one highway was routed around a "white thorn" tree in avoidance of its removal.  It is not uncommon to find lone hawthorn trees growing in the middle of fields because nobody wanted to take the risk of cutting them down. 

It is said that children or adults who sit under the hawthorn tree can be snagged into the underworld.  This superstition is also associated with belief in changelings often with tragic consequences for sickly or physically impaired people who "disappear" in the night. 
Some practitioners of pagan religions associate Hawthorns with fertility and eroticism. Their beautiful white blooms herald the start of spring and are cause for celebration. 

In Catholicism,  the thorns used for the "crown of thorns" worn by Jesus on the cross were said to be from the Hawthorn tree. The Virgin Mary can be found adorned with hawthorn blossoms. The trees are often planted near holy wells where they can become "rag trees," with pieces of cloth tied on the branches as a way to summon good luck.  

In the natural world, the hawthorn tree provides many benefits for other creatures in the form of food and shelter. Bees love the flowers and thrushes and waxwings eat the haws.  The benefit is reciprocal as the birds become dispersal vectors for the seeds.

The wood from the trees can be used to make combs and other small items as the trunks are very small in diameter. Hawthorns are popular in hedgerows because the impressive thorns are good at corralling animals - keeping some in and others out. 

The impressive thorns of the cockspur hawthorn!

Accession tags make identifying trees a whole lot easier

Closeup of the branches, leaves, thorns, haws (the last of which are eaten by birds)

A Year in the Life of a Hawthorn Tree

Hawthorn Trees

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) | Ireland's Wildlife (

The Fairy Tree: Ireland’s ugly and mystical bush that rerouted a motorway | Stripes Europe

Updated Bibliography:

1)  The Overstory by Richard Powers | Goodreads 

2)  Sacred Trees of Ireland by Christine Zucchelli | Goodreads 

3)  Wild Woods: The Magic of Ireland's Native Woodlands by Richard Nairn | Goodreads 

4)  American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation by Eric Rutkow | Goodreads 

5)  Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham | Goodreads 

6)  The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben | Goodreads 

7) Barclay Mountain: A History  Bradford County Historical Society ( 

8)  The Fir Tree Map of the Beara Peninsula & South West Cork Sheet map folded 

9) Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit (

10) An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

11) Lough Hyne – From Prehistory to the Present – Skibbereen Heritage Centre (

12) Skibbereen: The Famine Story by Terri Kearney and Philip O'Reagan

13) Animation Sketchbooks by Laura Heit (

14) Baltimore Castle: An 800-year History Bernie McCarthy

15)The Chieftain's Daughter by Marie D Driscoll

16) The Textile Trilogy – Destiny Kinal

17) Wisdom of Trees by Jane Gifford

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