For the Gaels, hawthorn is considered to be a tree of magical enchantment and is strongly associated with Beltane, the ancient festival celebrating spring. In Celtic mythology it is one of the most sacred trees and symbolises love and protection.
Conversely, in the early 1980s the Folklore Society’s survey of ‘unlucky’ plants revealed that 23% of the items referred to hawthorn. This was more than twice as many instances as the second most unlucky plant. Across Britain there was the belief that bringing hawthorn blossom into the house would lead to illness and death.
Medieval folk also asserted that the smell of hawthorn blossom was just like the smell of the Great Plague in London. Botanists later discovered the reason for this. The chemical trimethylamine present in hawthorn blossom is also formed in decaying animal tissue.
There is a hawthorn tree in Glastonbury, England, popularly known as the Glastonbury or Holy Thorn. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea visited Glastonbury with the Holy Grail and thrust his staff into Wearyall Hill, which then grew into the original thorn tree. Unusually, the tree blooms twice a year. A flowering sprig is sent to the British Monarch every Christmas.
My hawthorn tree grows in the wind on Beachy Head.