Crataegus aronia (Spiny Hawthorn) is a low, dense, spiny tree with a beautiful inflorescence. It has numerous small, yellow, tasty fruits. The tree is deciduous and bare from December until March. It is preferable not to tire by picking the fruits one by one, straining your eyes to differentiate between a ripe and an unripe fruit by the color, and your fingers maneuvering between the thorns. It is easier to shake the tree, which will cause only the ripe fruits to fall, and they can then be collected from the ground without getting pricked by the thorns. The Spiny Hawthorn has a tasty, sweet-sour pulp, but in a small amount, between the pericarp and the stones. The fruits of the Spiny Hawthorn (in Arabic za’arur) can be differentiated from the fruits of the plum (in Arabic dom or sider or nabak). The fruits of the Hawthorn are juicier and sourer and yellow, whereas the fruits of the plum are dry to corky and brown.
The tree’s trunk is scabrous, its bark stays on the trunk for a long time and does not peel off, and affords a convenient foothold for lichens. Often a dense beard of fruticose lichens (Ramalina spp.) can be found on the branches. The crown is dense and thorny and serves as a preferred hiding and nesting place for small song birds. The leaf of the Hawthorn is carried on a short petiole. The stipules are deciduous and the blade is cuneate, pointed at its base. Its end is cleaved into 3-5 rounded lobes. The tips of the branches are thorny. The young leaves and branches are pilose, and become glabrous as they mature.
Spiny Hawthorn blooms in March-April, together with the sprouting of the leaves or a short time after. The flowers are arranged in dense, convex and beautiful inflorescences of 10 flowers. Sometimes, an entire tree covered with a refreshing bloom is seen. The individual flower is typical of the Rosaceae (similarly to the apple, pear, plum). The calyx has five lobes, the corolla is small (with a diameter of 10-15 mm), 5 separate white petals, 5-25 stamens, 2-3 styles. The ovary is inferior, embedded. The flower has an unpleasant smell. The flower is, as mentioned, white, but is greenish in the center, and the anthers impart red-brown spots to the flower. The fruit ripens in October into a yellow spherical fruit one cm in diameter that contains 2-3 stones. Its pulp is juicy, soft and tasty, if you were not beaten to it by insect larvae. The sepals and traces of the stamens remain on the head of the fruit, which somewhat spoils the texture of the fruit and illustrates the fact that the fruit develops from an inferior ovary. The fruit is rich in vitamin C. It is used for making jam and is collected and sold in the markets of the Middle East.
Spiny Hawthorn is a common plant. It is adaptive and resistant and grows in diverse habitats, in different plant associations and in different climatic regions: the borderline belt between the Mediterranean and the desert region, where it apparently originated; in a dense oak Maqui and on the margins of sparse Maquis; in the regeneration of a felled Maqui; in bathas and in shrub formations; in the southern coastal plain (where it dominates as the sole tree); on Mount Hermon and its foot up to an elevation of 1,600 m. We found an individual tree on Mount Hermon at an elevation of 1,200 m that had fruits with a diameter of 3 cm and excellent taste. Near the Pa’ar Cave in the Upper Galilee there are individuals that reach a height of 10 m.
In the folk medicine of the Israeli Arabs, the fruits of the Spiny Hawthorn are used for healing diarrhea, sore throat, internal hemorrhage, dizziness, convulsions, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease. An alcoholic beverage made from the flowers is used to treat insomnia, menopause symptoms, anxiety and nervousness. A boiled drink of the bark or roots is used against high blood pressure.
The global distribution of Spiny Hawthorn spreads over the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The genus Crataegus contains 200 species, which grow mainly in northern temperate regions on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, especially in North America, where they are called by different folk names in English. There are 4 species in Israel: Spiny Hawthorn, which is common and has yellow fruits, and 3 rare species whose fruits are red, and which are difficult to differentiate from each other. When there are no fruits, it is difficult to differentiate them from Spiny Hawthorn.
Written by Mike Livne