Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn

Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn

Crataegus crus-galli var. inermis

Description & Overview

This Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn is a deciduous tree that features a stunning, umbrella-shaped growth habit, spring flowers, fall fruit, and brilliant orange fall color. It’s incredibly versatile in most landscape styles.

This is a naturally occurring variety of Cockspur Hawthorn without thorns on its stems. This is a user-friendly alternative to the straight species, Crataegus crus-galli (which has thorns along its stems). You may notice some images used in both profiles. This is because the characteristics, except the thorns, are identical. You can see more pictures of the bark and branches with thorns in the Cockspur Hawthorn profile.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 20-30 feet
Mature Spread: 25-35 feet
Growth Rate: Slow
Growth Form: Broad, Upright, Rounded
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Tolerable of clay, alkalinity and occasional drought
Flower: White
Bloom Period: May
Foliage: Glossy Dark Green
Fall Color: Orange
Fruit Notes: Berry, Brick-red

Suggested Uses:

Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn is a broad-rounded tree with exfoliating bark. Its strong, horizontal branches make it an amazing accent tree. This hawthorn is an ideal choice for a native garden or natural landscape. This tree’s lower branches often sweep near the ground which can give it the appearance of a large, flat-topped shrub.

It produces “perfect” white flowers which are followed by a deep red fruit. “Perfect flowers” have both male and female reproductive parts on the flower. While monoecious plants are plants that have both male and female parts. A perfect flower is an individual flower that has both male and female structures. A monoecious plant can have perfect flowers, or it can have imperfect flowers (separate male and female flowers on the same individual plant).

Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn isn’t fussy when it comes to pH levels, clay, or salt. It’s even drought-tolerant! Being tolerable of a variety of challenging growing conditions makes it a great choice for an urban setting, small group plating, or as a specimen tree in a lawn or woodland garden.

Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn in formal and natural landscapes.

Wildlife Value:

The flowers of Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn are an important source of nectar for pollinators. The dense horizontal structure also makes an excellent nesting spot for birds like the Brown Thrasher and Yellow-Breasted Chat.

This tree is a larval host plant for several moths such as the Gray Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak, Striped Hairstreak, Red-spotted Limenitis, and the Viceroy Limenitis.

Flowers are followed by rounded fruits that ripen to a deep red in the fall. These berries are a valuable food source for birds. Hawthorns can attract more than 20 different species of birds and are especially favored by the Cedar Waxwing, Ruffed Grouse, and Fox Sparrow.

Larger stock B&B Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn at Johnson's Nursery. Pictures take mid-May.

Maintenance Tips:

Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn care starts with proper siting. This tree can tolerate part shade, but it performs best in full sun. This tree has proven to be adaptable to different soil types and is indifferent to soil pH levels. It can tolerate drought and some occasional seasonal flooding as well as different soil textures such as clay or sand. It is also tolerant of clay, salt, and urban pollution which makes it particularly useful when planting in urban settings.

This tree can be pruned easily to maintain its umbrella-like form. It can be cut back to old wood and will resprout freely. Pruning is best done in the dormant season.

We invite you to check out the Arborist for Hire lookup at the Wisconsin Arborist Association website to find an ISA Certified Arborist near you.

Close up of red fall fruit on larger stock B&B. Pictures early September.

Larger stock B&B at Johnson's Nursery. Pictures early September.


Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn is susceptible to Cedar-Hawthorn Rust. This is a fungal disease that causes discoloration of the leaves, fruit, and new branches. It starts on Eastern Red Cedar and Junipers then spreads to apple, crabapple, serviceberry, and hawthorns. The fungus must “move” from one type of host to another. This disease only affects the appearance of the tree and will not impact the tree’s health. You can protect trees from infection by spraying in spring and early summer with an approved fungicide. Products containing chlorothalonil and mancozeb are registered for use against cedar rust disease on hawthorns. This tree is also susceptible to other common ornamental diseases such as leaf spot, powdery mildew, cankers, and leaf blight.

Cedar-Hawthorn Rust is essentially the cousin of Cedar-Apple Rust. Both hawthorns and apples get infected by the fungal disease when near a cedar/juniper tree, but technically the disease is not the same. They’re in the same family, but not the exact same.

Potential insect pests include aphids, leaf miners, and scale insects, which defoliate trees. Prune heavily damaged or infected branches as needed during the dormant season.

Leaf Lore:

The genus for this tree, Crataegus, comes from the Greek word Kratos meaning “strength” for its strong, hardwood. The specific epithet crus-galli in Latin means “leg of a rooster”. This is in reference to the purported resemblance of the thorns of these plants to a cock’s spurs giving it the common name Cockspur Hawthorn.

Companion Plants:

Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn can be planted as a small tree in the landscape. It pairs well with other fruiting trees such as Crabapples and Serviceberry. Hawthorns can be pruned into an informal hedge to block views/sounds, or provide protection from wildlife. Other plants that pair well with informal hedges/screens include Quaking Aspen, Ninebark, or Gray Dogwood. We recommend planting intermittently alongside hawthorns to give your hedge a more natural look.

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johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32