For the longest time, I thought these thorny trees encountered in the Grayson Highlands, along the Appalachian Trail, were black or honey locust trees. While researching the locust tree for the post, I discovered these trees were actually hawthorns.
The locusts have long compound oval leaves, while the hawthorn has simple wedge shaped leaves. My Scout Troop enjoys backpacking in the area around late September. By this time of year the hawthorn leaves have dropped revealing the ripping berry fruit. Instead of berries, the locust fruit is long dark seed pods.
Because of its showy white spring flowers, the hawthorn is sometimes used as an ornamental planting. Its long, hard thorns also make it a desirable security barrier when planted as hedging. In the wild, hawthorns provide food and shelter for many birds and mammals. The fruit remains on the tree into the late winter, serving as an critical reserve food source.
My research also indicated there are hundreds of hawthorn variants which makes it particularly difficult to identify a specific subspecies. Additionally, several studies have shown hawthorn extract as a potential treatment for heart disease and heart health.
Several years ago, my Scout Troop arrived at a Grayson Highlands campsite on the AT, on a late, foggy evening. In the dense fog, I struggled to find a pair of trees to setup my camping hammock. I ultimately was forced to setup between two very thorny trees. Looking back, I can’t confirm if they were hawthorns or honey locusts (also has long thorns). Finally resting in my hammock that night, I used my backpacking first aid kit to treat several minor, but painful puncture wounds!
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