Do Hawthorn Trees Smell Bad?

  • By: TheWalledNursery
  • Time to read: 4 min.
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Hawthorn trees themselves don’t stink, however, their flowers—which are generally very pretty and grow in large clusters that blanket the tree’s crown—are known to stink pretty badly. The smell of a Hawthorn Tree’s flowers is often associated with rotting corpses. The common Hawthorn is the exception to the rule. 

While that sounds pretty melodramatic, the flowers do indeed give off a particularly repugnant odor, and it’s not something you want to stick your face in and inhale deeply. Carrion beetles are known to be attracted to them, mistaking the flowers for an actual, desiccated corpse. 

It’s a shame since Hawthorn trees have a lot of other positives going for them.

Which Hawthorn Trees Smell? 

The common Hawthorn doesn’t smell, at least not badly. That’s why you will occasionally run across a blog or informative website that points out their sweet-smelling followers. When you see that, you know they’re talking about the common Hawthorn. 

There are seven types of the Hawthorn tree, not including the Mayhaw variants that are related: 

  • English Hawthorn 
  • Chinese Hawthorn 
  • Washington Hawthorn 
  • Cockspur Hawthorn 
  • Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn 
  • Black Hawthorn 
  • Common Hawthorn 

The decomposing flesh smell—described in medieval literature as smelling very much like the black plague itself—is associated with all but the common Hawthorn. 

Ironically, the Hawthorn tree not only produces edible fruit but is also considered to be quite tasty, resembling a small cranberry with roughly five or six stones in its center. It’s probably not a good idea to eat the berries while in smell distance of the tree though. 

The berries on the Black Hawthorn are not red, however, and closely resemble a large blueberry or huckleberry. All but the Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn are known for their extremely thorny branches, often sharp enough to easily penetrate the skin if you go looking for ripe berries. 

Do Mayhaw Trees Smell Like Hawthorn? 

Mayhaw trees are a part of the Hawthorn tree family, however, they didn’t inherit the decaying corpse smell. Mayhaw trees are known for their cranberry-like mayhaw fruits which can be eaten as they are or made into a variety of jellies. 

Mayhaw trees do have the thorny branches that permeate the other Hawthorn trees, however, so if you go hunting for Mayhaw berries, be careful.  

The Mayhaw is mostly found in North Carolina and is usually thought of as a very large shrub. It can be trained into a small tree, which takes a lot of time and cultivation yet is doable nonetheless.  

What Does Common Hawthorn Smell Like? 

Common hawthorn has a very pleasant smell, often described as vanilla and almond with a splash of spice. ITs a very spring-like smell, which makes sense because it typically blooms in the spring and so is associated with it through generational and muscle memory. 

It doesn’t end there, apparently, as the common Hawthorn flower is a prized source for many perfumers. When we say source, we mean as an inspiration, as the scent of Hawthorn flowers is artificially reproduced.  

It wasn’t always that way. For centuries the common Hawthorn flower has been used as a perfume or deodorant. It’s a far cry from the all-encompassing reputation the Hawthorn tree has for smelling like cadavers when the common version is quite the opposite. 

What Are the Positives of All Hawthorn Trees? 

One of the positives is the berries that they produce, which are edible, tart, and sweet at the same time. They also have beautiful flowers that bloom in the springtime. While they’re mostly creamy white, you can also find some that are pink or a darker shade of pink. 

Hawthorn trees are also used medicinally. Both animal and human studies have concluded that Hawthorn has a lot of positive side effects and helps treat several illnesses. 

Hawthorn is excellent for those who suffer from heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. It’s also been shown to significantly reduce heart palpitations.  

Hawthorn improves circulation and studies have shown that it has an equal level of efficacy as captopril, which is prescription-only heart medicine. Hawthorn has also shown, in numerous studies, that it is effective in improving breathing and reducing angina (chest pain) in patients. 

Hawthorn is also a known antioxidant, helping to rid the body of toxins and dilating blood vessels. Not altogether bad for a tree that has a reputation for smelling of corpses. 

Final Thoughts 

The common Hawthorn tree doesn’t smell bad and the tree itself doesn’t smell bad. The cluster of flowers on the other hand on the tree does. It is said that the cluster of flowers smells of rotting corpses. Find out which Hawthorn trees smell bad above.