A whiff of corruption

No, not a rant about politics, but an explanation of the love-it-and-hate-it scent of the common hawthorn, or May Tree, also known as whitethorn and quickthorn (Crataegus monogyna).

Just now, the roadside hedges are dotted with the linear wands of flowering hawthorn, and if you are on foot rather than cocooned in your car, you’ll be well aware of the scent of the flowers. It’s a heady trimethylamine - chemical formulablend of floral sweetness with a rather unpleasant undertone of decay – which stems from the presence of trimethylamine, an organic compound that develops during putrefaction (along with the rather wonderfully-named putrescine and cadaverine, not present in hawthorn flowers).

The smell probably explains the common belief in the past that the flowers should not be brought into the house as they bring bad fortune. In fact, the tree is the subject of numerous superstitions and folk tales. The most exotic is that Jesus’ uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, visited Glastonbury and planted his staff which grew into a hawthorn tree. But others say that the flowers are a fertility symbol (there are lots of those!) or that a tree in a hedge keeps witches away.

I just love them as a symbol of summer to come!

The last image above is particularly poignant as this rather lovely sentinel overlooking the Marshwood Vale blew down some years ago.