How To Deal With Hawthorn Berries – ) is a long-lived, evergreen species that grows along the southeastern coast of Australia. Its distribution is shown in blue dots on the map. From Adelaide to Brisbane, this plant can thrive in a variety of climates and soils, although it prefers humid and sub-humid regions where annual rainfall exceeds 600mm. It is this incredible adaptability that has allowed hawthorn to take on so many properties. You may have seen it acting as an alternative for fences around paddocks or along waterways, or even as an ornamental plant in gardens. Its dense network of branches and sharp thorns make it an excellent candidate for fencing, which is why it was brought to Australia from Western Europe and the Mediterranean with the early English settlers. Since then, this versatile shrub has taken root (literally and figuratively!) in the Australian landscape.
Despite being labeled as a shrub, hawthorn can look like a tree when fully grown. It can reach up to 7 m in height and 4 m in width. They have distinctive flowers (white, cream or pink depending on the subspecies) and bright red berries that hang from branches with long spines. These sharp thorns can grow up to 25mm in length!
How To Deal With Hawthorn Berries
This article is written to help you learn how to identify and manage hawthorn while prioritizing your safety, as well as learn about the native plants it replaces.
Hawthorn (shan Zha)
Hawthorn plants have evolved to efficiently spread their seeds via local wildlife. Branch-nesting birds and mammals (including foxes, opossums and wallaroos) that wander for cover love the taste of hawthorn berries. By consuming these bushy fruits, moving around the nearby landscape and excreting them, the seeds are scattered far beyond the parent tree. These sneaky plants can also use us for transport! People and machinery moving through hawthorn-infested areas can carry the seeds on clothing, footwear and farm equipment. According to Landscape South Australia, one bush can produce up to 2000 seeds!
Due to the impact on the diversity of domestic ecosystems, especially coastal areas. Although they provide the level of habitat for a small number of species, hawthorn monocultures do not provide habitat for the diverse group of species found in comparable natural systems. Seedlings can easily establish in fenced areas along riparian corridors and thrive in the deeper soils and higher moisture that these areas provide. They often become dominant where clearing and grazing have reduced the resilience of the system. Once grown, hawthorn suppresses the growth of ground (understory) vegetation with its dense, spiny thickets. This provides refuge for less invasive pests, such as rabbits, brown apple moths and cherry slugs, reducing native biodiversity along waterways and leaving larger native species without adequate habitat. While hawthorn also provides protection for small birds and native mammals, native vegetation offers greater value because hawthorn is so successful that it can form a monoculture, suffocating plant diversity and reducing biodiversity. This is particularly problematic in treeless wetlands and wetlands where ecosystems rely on a diversity of ground plants to thrive. This is why we encourage people to manage hawthorn along waterways.
Unmanaged hawthorn plants also have a negative impact on land grazed by domestic livestock. Thanks to rapid spreading techniques, hawthorn stands can easily spread far beyond intended planting zones into native grasslands, woodlands, woodlands and pastures. Thickets interfere with the grazing capacity of livestock because the plants are dense and the prickly thorns make them uncomfortable to be around. If picked up on fur, stock can be responsible for further transport of seeds to unintended areas.
The video below features one of our Rivers of Carbon program officers, Ian Rainer from Greening Australia, talking about hawthorn and why we encourage landowners to control this invasive weed.
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The following sections will provide you with some tips on how to manage invasive hawthorn. As always, planning revegetation work on your property should consider the landscape as a whole, keeping in mind the larger values and functions of the landscape. Any ground work on the vegetation should take place around the preservation of biodiversity, canopy, substrate and cover.
We recommend that you get some local expertise so that you can adapt and modify these recommendations according to your site and situation. This is a very important step, because in areas where hawthorn is well established, management needs to be strategic and well planned. It is not recommended to remove dense hawthorn infestations where there is no other vegetation to replace them. In this situation, it is necessary to develop a strategy that prioritizes containment and reduction of infection over time. In the case of several plants, they should be controlled as a high priority to prevent further spread. Local councils, local land services, land care groups and catchment management organizations are excellent sources of information.
Angus Gibson and his family have been caretakers of this property since the late 1920s. It’s history, beauty and biodiversity drive their commitment to land restoration and sustainable agriculture. In the late 1990s, a large infestation of hawthorn littered the coastal landscape. Angus, in addition to his 10-year river restoration plan, had a vision to make his riparian corridors healthy again. By fencing, restoring vegetation and removing hawthorn, water and quality have improved for both people and livestock. Angus has become the Rivers of Carbon Champion Farmer thanks to his successful land management. The image below visualizes the huge difference that responsible land management can make to river ecosystems.
There are three main strategies for controlling invasive hawthorn populations. Remember that any habitat lost to hawthorn should be replaced with other native plants to maintain biodiversity.
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The best way to ensure that hawthorn does not grow and spread on your property is to avoid planting it! Rivers of Carbon, Australian Native Plants Society and The Understorei Network offer excellent advice on alternative species that can replace hawthorn (eg Kurrajong, Wattle, River Bottlebrush, River Tea-Tree). It is especially important to choose alternative native plants that offer dense habitat or other resources such as food sources for native species, do not spread easily and can still act as windbreaks and natural fencing for paddocks. Naturally intact wetlands and treeless wetlands generally do not require additional intervention as they tend to regenerate on their own.
A planting day at one of our Rivers of Carbon sites in Breadalbane where we work with landowners to fence livestock, protect watercourses and restore vegetation. Photo: Lucy Wenger.
Grubbing involves the removal of seedlings and small bushes with a trowel or spade. At this age, hawthorn plants have a limited root system and are easily pulled out of the ground. Grabbing this species is best done throughout the year to ensure maximum success. Unfortunately, while this technique is effective in preventing new seedlings from taking root, it has no effect on mature shrubs. Removing fully grown hawthorn is expensive and laborious, so it’s best to fight existing plants with step #3.
Herbicides are chemical substances used to control unwanted or harmful weeds such as hawthorn. They often require the least effort and give the best results. Herbicides are a more targeted way to rid your property of hawthorn, and when applied carefully can protect nearby native flora and fauna. It’s really important to do your research before using any chemicals near a waterway.
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Most herbicides are not registered for use in and near waterways because these are extremely sensitive areas. The safest approach is to complete a course on chemical use and handling, and to check with your biosecurity officer and/or local land services on the approaches they recommend. For more information, see the NSW Weed Control Handbook.
For hawthorn, it is best to apply herbicides from summer to fall, and leave the plants alone over the winter while they are dormant. There are three main herbicide application techniques:
Complete eradication of hawthorn is not always necessary. While hawthorn invasion is a symptom of human intervention in the landscape, it can be an important habitat for vulnerable species, such as cockatoos. Removal should not be carried out without regard to the surrounding ecosystems. Any eradication of major infestations requires integrated strategic eradication plans, discussed in collaboration with relevant land care groups and councils. … Who could resist such an easy pick?
When you can fill a five-gallon bucket in less than 30 minutes, the bait is completely irresistible.
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And there you are, bucket in hand with bunches of berries and leaves, headed for the kitchen and the big hawthorn extravaganza.
But before you get caught up spending most of the rest of the week raking in your bounty, here are a few quick tricks to speed up your harvest and make some tempting and delicious healing foods and remedies perfect for the season.
First, place at least half of the berries and all the leaves on wide, flat drying trays. Wash them by running them through a colander under cold water and shaking well before placing them on drying racks.
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