Dulwich Trees Profile – The Medlar Hawthorn
by John Hughes
Dulwich is lucky in possessing two examples of a rare chimera between medlar (mespilus) and hawthorn (crataegus). These are its two medlar hawthorns, one of which is on the Gallery Road side of the College Chapel Gardens, just to the south of the elm and somewhat in its lee. The other is on the northern boundary to Dulwich Park, to the east of the Court Lane entrance.
The scientific name for the tree – Crataegomespilus grandiflora – reflects its mixed parentage and also its most distinguishing feature: its large flowers. Indeed, you would do well to notice the tree at all outside the flowering season, so shy and skulking are its habits. In many ways it is the botanical equivalent of some rare warbler or pipit, interesting to the enthusiast, but looking to the more sensible person very little different from any other “little brown job.”
Yet in its flowering season, in the wonderful month of May, this “little brown job” transforms itself into a most beautiful and elegant sight. The following photograph of the Gallery Road specimen gives some idea of this:
The flowers themselves, held in clusters of two and three, are very delicate and lovely as this photograph illustrates:
It will be interesting to see whether, after our cold winter, the flowers appear later this season. The fruits which follow have the medlar’s wide sepal-ring but the haw’s mealy taste. The medlar is by no means a rare tree while the hawthorn is common although the Midland hawthorn, which some authorities consider to be the thorn involved here, is rarer. But I do not know of another London example of the medlar hawthorn (the specimen which used to grow by the Director’s office in Kew is no longer there). On the other hand, it hardly advertises its presence for most of the year, so keep an eye out in May/June in case you come across it in its full glory.