Legends of the Hawthorn: Myths, Magic, and Meanings

You may pass by Hawthorn shrubs daily and not even know it. Despite isolated native ranges, Hawthorn varieties are widely naturalized and are often used as park or landscaping plants because of their durability and beauty. It produces both charming white flowers and bright red fruits that offer a lot of symbolism along with more practical benefits. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about Hawthorn’s meaning and symbolism in the language of flowers. 

Hawthorn Meaning, Symbolism, Myths, Folklore, and Cultural Significance

The Meaning and Symbolism of Hawthorns

These unassuming shrubs often attract attention during the spring for their flowers and during the fall for the colorful berries. If you’ve recently identified a shrub in your yard as a Hawthorn, you might be surprised at the depth of meaning behind this common plant.

Hawthorn Meaning in the Victorian Language of Flowers

Multiple varieties of Hawthorn are native to Europe, including England and the rest of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Hawthorn plant had an official meaning in the Victorian language of flowers or floriography

Most sources from the period report that sprigs of the flowering plant were included in messages of hope or inspiration. It was an excellent way to help encourage someone who was going through something difficult or to tell them you were hoping for the best outcome. 

Catholic Victorians considered it a symbol of devotion to the Virgin Mary. Some French sources also noted that it carried a meaning of prudence or was used as a warning to tell someone to take care.

Hawthorn Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism

Hawthorn Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism

Most Hawthorns produce white flowers, which carry a meaning of healing, purity, innocence, and a fresh start. That fits well with the symbolism of hope that the Victorians applied to the flower. 

Some varieties produce a rosy pink flower instead. Pink flowers symbolize cuteness, playfulness, joy, curiosity, and platonic affection. 

The Hawthorn fruits are also sometimes used in floral arrangements for a botanical touch. The fruits are bright to dark red, adding a hint of passion, strength, power, and success.

The Meaning of Hawthorns in Ancient Times

In Ancient Celtic culture, the tree was named ‘May’ because it was associated so closely with the arrival of spring. The practice of collecting boughs of these beautiful flowers and decorating the halls of the British Isles was known as going a-maying.

This gives the flowers an association with celebration, flirtation, and blossoming romance. Thanks to its combination of thorned branches and white flowers, it was also referred to as whitethorn during this time. It’s also associated with fairies and transitions between worlds in the Druidic tradition.

Some sources say that the Mediterranean Hawthorn variety was used for making wedding torches in the rituals of ancient Greece. However, there are only a few examples of this from history. It still reinforces that the plant had a meaning of romance and union long before the medieval period.

The Meaning of Hawthorns in Religion and Spirituality

Aside from the Hawthorn’s meaning in Druidic spirituality, it is a potent symbol of the Christian church in England. 

Some Biblical scholars suggest that Hawthorne’s spiky wood might be the one used for the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. Since Hawthorn is widely used in England to create thick hedges that stop livestock from escaping, these living fences add a protective and enclosing meaning to the plant. 

It’s also considered a portal to the other world. Crossing the hedge is a term in traditional British witchcraft used to refer to traveling between worlds, and the hedges referred to in the term are primarily made with Hawthorn shrubs. 

The long thorns can also send a protective or threatening message depending on what they’re paired with.

Hawthorn Meaning in the Japanese Flower Language

Even in the Japanese flower language, the Hawthorn is considered a symbol of hope. The plant isn’t native to that part of Asia, so it came with an existing meaning carried over from Victorian meaning. 

Chinese Hawthorn have large fruit and few thorns, so they have a more bountiful and joyful association than many other varieties that grow in the region.

Cultural Stories for Hawthorns

Cultural Stories for Hawthorns

As a symbol of spring, many people in Europe and North America alike plant Hawthorn for the early spring flowers. This reinforces the meaning of hope and restoration that has been applied to the plant for centuries. 

In Europe, carrying boughs of Hawthorn with or without blossoms is supposed to protect you from witchcraft and other negative influences. Even keeping a few of the dried berries on your person is still known as a protective measure. 

Some people wind thorns broken off from the branches with red thread and hang them up in the home to serve as a protective charm against thunderstorms or illness.

Official State Flower

The Hawthorn is the official state flower of Missouri. Multiple North American species of the tree are native to the state. 

What’s more, Hawthorn is also the official May birth flower and is therefore associated with both Gemini and Taurus Zodiac signs.

Medicinal Uses for Hawthorn

Hawthorn is one of the most widely used and studied herbal medicine options. The fruit are often crushed and put into capsules with some limited evidence that it may help with heart conditions, asthma, and more. 

Research into its effects on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and more continues to expand to explore potential future uses for these berries.

Hawthorn Meaning and Symbolism – Wrapping Up

The Hawthorn is rich in meaning and will greet you every spring with cheerful white blossoms and reliable fall fruits that add color to the landscape. Don’t be afraid of the thorns since it’s such a potent symbol of spring, hope, and renewal.


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