Hawthorns are a diverse group of native small trees/large shrubs with bright, white flowers in spring and red berries in the fall. They are a confusing group (Genus Crataegus) to classify, and accurate species identification is often left to specialists. According to The Sibley Guide to Trees, botanists of 100 years past listed 1,100 species of Hawthorns in North America. In recent times, cooler heads have prevailed, and current thinking is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 species.
Fortunately there are a few species of Hawthorns that are relatively easy to identify. One of these is the Parsley Hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii), named for its deeply cut leaves that resemble the leaves of parsley. The leaves are unique for a Hawthorn, and serve to separate it from its close relatives.
Compare the leaves of the Parsley Hawthorn to several other Crataegus sp. Hawthorns found in the Falls Lake area and illustrated below.
The Parsley Hawthorn is a tree of the Southeastern United States, and is primarily a Piedmont species in North Carolina, avoiding the Mountains and the Coastal Plain. It is a member of the Rose family (Rosaceae) and has plenty of thorns on its trunk and twigs.
Buds are formed in late March to early April, and take several weeks to develop and bloom. As the blooms open, the striking pink-raspberry anthems stand out against the white petals.
The five-petaled white flowers bloom in corymbs, and usually have 2 styles and 15 to 20 stamens. As the anthers age, they change from the pink- raspberry color to black. Below is a corymb of flowers blooming with the typical parsley-like leaves in the background. The blooms are very small – less than an inch across.
In the close photo below, the 2 green styles can be seen at the center, surrounded by the stamens.
Below is the flower in profile with the two green styles visible among the stamens.
The Parsley Hawthorn seen blooming below is about 15 feet tall and lies in the outer flood plain of the Neuse River, along the Neuse River Trail. A red arrow points to the trunk of the tree. The foliage has grown reaching for more sun, which gives the tree an off-balance appearance. Most of the photographs above were taken from this tree.