They grow on a shrub that can grow 20 to 35 feet (6 to 10 1/2 metres) tall. The branches have white bark, with sharp thorns up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) long. The shrubs are long-living, with very deep roots.
The blossoms, which have a bit of an unpleasant odour, can be pink or white, depending on the variety.
In the autumn, clusters of red berries are produced. Some people prefer to leave the berries until after the first frost.
The berries, up to 1/2 inch (1 cm) wide, look like very tiny apples. Their colour can range from yellowish-orange to red to purple.
Some varieties will give berries with so little taste that they are best left for wildlife. Other varieties will give tart berries; these are the useful ones.
The are several different varieties of Hawthorne.
European varieties are native to the Mediterranean. During the Second World War, children in the UK were given days off school to gather Hawthorne Berries for the Ministry of Health.
The variety native to, and popular in the American south-west, is “Crataegus aestivalis.” There are at least 35 different cultivars of this variety to date, producing fruit of differing qualities. Trials are being done of growing these Hawthorne Berries in orchards for commercial fruit production. Current development is partly focussing on cultivars that produce fruit that can be mechanically harvested.
 Some Hawthorne Berry varieties flower in early February and have the fruit ready to harvest as of early May..
The seeds inside Hawthorne Berries can be large, which means that you need a great deal of berries to produce any amount of pulp worth working with.
The berries can be dried, crushed and used for tea. Or the pulp from Hawthorne Berries can be used for jelly, jam wine or syrups.
Amongst herbal medicine practitioners, Hawthorne Berries are reputed to be a “heart tonic” and to reduce blood pressure.
1 US gallon (3.75 litres) in volume = 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 to 2.25 kg).
Literature & Lore
Hawthorne Jelly is one of two official jellies of the State of Louisiana (the other one is Cane Jelly). They refer to it as Mayhaw Jelly.
People born on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada used to sometimes be called “Haweaters” because Hawthorn bushes flourished on the island.
“The other is may-haw or hawthorn jelly, as delicate as its name. I first tasted it, incongruously, on a bear hunt near the St. John’s River. Marsh Harper brought it, of his wife’s making, as part of his contribution to the hunt’s food supplies. It is necessary to pick the may-haws at the immediate moment of proper ripeness, for if unripe they are bitter, and if over-ripe they will not “jell.” — Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. Cross Creek. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1942.
Haw is an old Germanic word for “hedge”.