Crataegus mollis (Downy Hawthorn)

Plant Info
Also known as: Red Haw
Family:Rosaceae (Rose)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry to moist; forest edges, thickets, pastures, river banks, lake shores, floodplains
Bloom season:May
Plant height:12 to 40 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: flat Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Flat-topped, branching cluster of 5 to 17 flowers at tips of branch twigs, emerging after the leaves in mid to late spring. Flowers are ¾ to 1 inch across with 5 round white petals. In the center are 17 to 20 stamens with white tips (anthers).

[photo of sepals, hypanthium and flower stalks] The 5 sepals around the base of the flower are narrowly triangular, the edges usually with gland-tipped teeth or narrow gland-tipped lobes. The cup-shaped hypanthium below the sepals and the flower stalks are both densely covered in short, soft hairs.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[leaf scan] Leaves are alternate, 2½ to 5 inches long, 2 to 5 inches wide, broadly egg-shaped to nearly round in outline, mostly widest near the base, blunt to pointed at the tip, broadly wedge-shaped to rounded to straight across at the base. Edges are toothed with 2 to 5 shallow lobes per side; glands at the tips of teeth are absent or obscure. The upper surface is densely short-hairy when young, the lower densely hairy especially along veins. The leaf stalk is up to about half as long as the blade, densely hairy all over and lacks glands.

[photo of branch thorns] Young twigs are hairy, green becoming gray-brown, knotty and hairless, turning gray the 3rd year and developing straight to slightly curved thorns 1 to 2¾ inches long. Thorns are moderately abundant to sparse, occasionally absent, blackish-brown turning gray.

[photo of trunk with compound thorns] Mature bark is thin, gray to gray-brown and splits into narrow plates. Stems are single or a few from the base and may reach 18 inches in diameter on larger stems, though 10 inches is more common. Compound thorns are usually present on lower stems; branches are spreading to ascending, the crown as wide as or wider than tall. Plants are not colony-forming or root suckering

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is fleshy and berry-like, round, ½ to nearly 1 inch diameter, dull scarlet to crimson red at maturity.


Downy Hawthorn is primarily found south of the Minnesota River, in south-central and southwestern Minnesota. Habitats include prairies, lake shores, brushy thickets, forest margins, river banks and ravines, in dry to moist soils.

Downy Hawthorn is recognized by the combination of: single or few-stemmed small tree, usually with compound thorns; spreading to ascending branches with sparse to moderately abundant thorns up to 2¾ inches long; leaves to 5 inches long, egg-shaped to round in outline, usually with distinct shallow lobes, densely soft-hairy on the underside especially along veins, teeth lack glands at the tip; leaf stalks densely hairy all over and lacking any glands; flowers to 1 inch diameter with 17 to 20 stamens and white anthers; sepals with gland-tipped serrations or narrow lobes, hypanthium and flower stalks densely short-hairy. Fruit is round, dull red at maturity. It is the hairiest and has the largest leaves and flowers of the Minnesota Hawthorns.

Flora of North America lists 5 varieties of Crataegus mollis, though these are not universally recognized, 4 of which have limited geographical ranges; they are distinguished by the abundance of thorns on twigs, leaf shape, degree of lobing, and color of mature fruit (yellow or red). Var. mollis, the most common var and the one present in Minnesota, has few to no thorns on twigs, leaves egg-shaped to nearly round, usually 2 to 5 distinct lobes per side, and red fruit.

Most similar is Crataegus submollis (Quebec Hawthorn), which is very similar in overall hairiness, but has slightly smaller flowers with only 7 to 10 stamens, trunks never have compound thorns, leaves tend to be more obscurely lobed, leaf teeth are minutely gland-tipped, and leaf stalks may have a few reddish glands.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Martin County.


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