A hawthorn tree in a public park in Fitzrovia is already showing off some blossom, yet it is only the first week of January.
The Friends of Fitzrovia Parks have reported that the tree in Crabtree Fields on the corner of Colville Place and Whitfield Street is showing signs of blossom four months before it usually arrives.
“Hawthorn also known as the May tree after the month it normally blooms is a common sight in the hedgerows outside London,” say the Friends, a voluntary group who work with Camden Council to maintain the greenery in the park.
“When in bloom it is usually at a time when spring is turning into summer. But due to the exceptionally mild (and wet) winter so far the fragrant flowers are already unfurling under the winter sun,” they say.
The tree was planted by Camden Council only a year ago and blossomed as usual last spring say the Friends. However, this year some flowers are showing on the branches even before the leaves have fully unfurled.
This hawthorn tree is actually behaving like blackthorn, another native tree in the park, which normally flowers before its leaves have sprouted. But blackthorn doesn’t normal flower until March at the earliest.
“It’s quite puzzling why its doing this,” say the Friends. “Maybe its because of the mild weather and all the rain we’ve had.”
Gardening experts have previously stated that it is unusual for hawthorn to ever flower before May.
“Even with global warming and an early season, hawthorn is unlikely to flower before the end of the first week of May,” noted gardener Monty Don.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is very important to wildlife and can support more than 300 insects. “It is the foodplant for caterpillars of moths, including the hawthorn, orchard ermine, pear leaf blister, rhomboid tortrix, light emerald, lackey, vapourer, fruitlet-mining tortrix, small eggar and lappet moths,” says The Woodland Trust.
“Its flowers are eaten by dormice and provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The haws are rich in antioxidants and are eaten by migrating birds, such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals.”
A mature hawthorn tree or a hedge with its dense, thorny foliage makes it and excellent nesting shelter for many species of bird.
Update: 7 January 2020. It has been suggested that the tree may be a variety of hawthorn that flowers twice a year. The Glastonbury thorn (Crataegus monogyna ‘Biflora’) flowers in the winter then again in the spring.