Hawthorns & Medlars RHS Guide - 5k Hawthorns & Medlars
by Phipps, JB., O'Kennon, RJ., & Lance, RW.,
pub. Timber Press, 2003
Harback, 139 pages, 17.99
ISBN 0 88192 591 8

Brought to the publishing world in conjunction with the RHS, the readership of 'Hawthorns & Medlars' - one of the RHS 'Plant Collector Guide' series - is likely to be of interest only to horticulturalists, collectors and growers of shrubs and trees. That said, the author and his co-contributors, have produced a highly worthy work that will probably become a benchmark book for many years to come. Indeed, as far as this reviewer knows, there are few, if any, other books on the subject.

The emphasis of this tome is really on the hawthorn, and it is the 'Midland Hawthorn' that is probably the best known member of the Cratageus family in the British Isles. Open this book however, and you discover that almost every continent has its own variety. The leaves of some look quite unlike the hawthorns that we are familiar with, while there is an astonishing variety of variation in fruit [haw] colour and size. A Mexican variety, Cratageus mexicana, for example, produces orange-yellow fruits that are almost an inch in diameter, while another couple of varieties produce fruits virtually black in colour. The seventy-odd colour plates provide an amazing visual reference to the variety of hawthorns out there.

Of course, in the British Isles we are familiar with hawthorns as a favourite and very worthy stock-proof hedging plant on farms, and it is excellent for pleaching [hedge laying] too. Our ancestors certainly knew what they were doing when they decided upon hawthorn for 'enclosure', and we are told that the Montana Indians fashioned fishhooks from the extremely hard hawthorn wood. Most of this information is contained in the opening chapters of Part I, which deal with the hawthorn in folklore, physical structure, practical value - including the use of haws as food - and cultivation. The latter chapter includes details on propagation, pruning, and pest and diseases.

Part II is devoted to the scientific study of hawthorn and medlar classification and indentification, and will appeal to the geeks of the horticultural world - said tongue in cheek with the greatest respect. It is this is comprehensive latter part where those involved in arboriculture, horticulture or landscaping will perhaps find the inspiration to develop new hybrids or find new uses for these two species of shrub.

Bottom line...
There are around 300 varieties of hawthorn known and this RHS guide successfully gathers together expert knowledge on the subject. It is doubtful the lay-person will find 'Hawthorns and Medlars' an interesting read, but professionals in the business should.

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