Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Naturally occurring ‘Holy thorns’

The Holy, or Glastonbury, thorn, Crataegus monogyna cv. ‘Biflora’, is said to produce flowers at Christmas time each year, as has been discussed elsewhere on this website.  In fact it produces flowers throughout most of the winter.  Apart from the trees  in Glastonbury a number of what are said to be holy thorns can be found elsewhere.  When these are found in gardens it can be assumed that they are ‘descendents’ of Glastonbury trees, i.e. they consist of a piece of holy thorn grafted on to a rootstock of ordinary, native hawthorn.  But sometimes what are described as holy thorns are found outside gardens – for example the thorn at Shenley Church End, Milton Keynes –  are these trees in fact descendents of Glastonbury trees?  The photograph shown here was taken at the southern edge of Streatham Woods on Tooting Common, London Borough of Lambeth (though cared for by Wandsworth borough council), on 2 February 2021, having been first noticed about two weeks earlier.  With its small white flowers and red fruits (haws) it appears identical to the holy thorn, but it is extremely improbable that it was ever planted as such.  It is, presumably, a naturally occurring sport, as, possibly, is the Shenley Church End tree.

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