Saturday, November 3, 2012

Emblem of hope

The hawthorn
Hawthorns are large bushes or small trees that belong to the rose family and are native in Europe, Asia and North America. 

These trees y are an important source of food plants for birds and insects. and are often planted by naturalists to attract wildlife.

Hawthorns are at their best in spring and autumn, most pictures of these small trees show the trees in autumn when their branches are laden with small apple-like fruit. 

The fruit is beautiful to look at but its function is not to please us but to attract thrushes and other birds and entice them to eat the fruit so that they would help disperse the seeds. 

Same is true in spring. The pleasant fragrance released by the beautiful white flowers of the hawthorn attracts large numbers of insects which are important for their pollination.

The name hawthorn is now used for all species in this group of plants but it was originally used only for one species that is common throughout most of Europe including Malta.

In Maltese it is called żagħrun. This species grows wildly in the Maltese countryside but is usually noticed only in autumn.

A less common species, the Crete hawthorn, is known in Maltese as għanzalor. 

Although this species is found in other Mediterranean countries it is not known whether it is indigenous to the Maltese islands as it might have been brought and planted here for its fruit. 

Sometimes one can also meet hybrids which are known in Maltese as għanżalor bagħal.

The hawthorn was commonly used in traditional medicine and is still being studied as a source of antioxidants and other phytochemicals which can be used as a cure for a number of medical conditions including cardiac insufficiency. 

The fruit can be made into jellies, jams and syrups and to add flavour to brandy. The petals can also be used in salads.

It is inevitable that such a popular plant would have many important folk traditions surrounding it. It is the emblem of hope and in parts of Britain and Ireland it was considered unlucky to uproot it. 

This article was published in The Times on 09.05.2012

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