All-American Tree Fruits

The hidden treasures of American woodlands.


Native American Fruit TreesMayhaw

The name says it all: Mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis, C. opaca, and C. rufula) is a southern edible hawthorn that ripens in May. The fruits vary in color from yellow to bright red, range in size from 1/3 to 2/3 inch across, and taste similar to a tart crabapple.

The broad-topped thorny trees are an attractive addition to the landscape—especially in early spring when they burst into a cloud of white to pale pink blossoms. They grow about 25 feet high and should be spaced at least 20 feet apart.

Plant at least two mayhaws to ensure cross-pollination and maximum fruit production. The trees grow and produce best when planted in well-drained, slightly acidic soil in Zones 6 to 9. (Although the trees are hardy to 15°F, they don’t fruit well in Zones 5 and colder.)

In most regions, you won’t need to do much to maintain an established mayhaw tree other than harvest it. The easiest way to do that is to spread a sheet under the tree and shake it. The fruits typically ripen over a period of several weeks. Expect a 5-year-old tree to yield about 5 gallons of fruits.

You can pop the mayhaws right into your mouth—fresh off the tree—but most people prefer to cook the fruits into marmalades, preserves, and desserts. Old-timers from the Deep South claim that mayhaws make the best jelly in the world. If you want to try your hand at mayhaw jelly, expect to get about 6 pints of jelly for every 6 quarts of fruit. As with pawpaws, though, go easy on the sweetener, or you’ll mask the distinctive mayhaw flavor.

Photo: (cc) Leslie Seaton/Flickr