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Crataegus x lavallei

Crataegus x lavallei
Crataegus x lavallei

The series on Botany and Spirits was intended to conclude on December 23, but a flaky web connection at work that day frustrated attempts to do much online. Back from holidays today, we'll end the series and then move on to the entries that Katherine has been producing. For today's photographs, we can thank reader Richard Jaffe of San Jose, California, who sent them along when I requested images for the series. The photograph of the fruit is from his garden designed by Thomas Church.

Crataegus × lavallei is commonly known as Lavallée's hawthorn. This hybrid has been known since about 1870, when it was discovered at Arboretum de Segrez, an institution established by the French botanist and horticulturist Pierre Lavallée. Most older references will state the hybrid is a cross between the female parent Crataegus stipulacea or Crataegus pubescens crossed with the male parent Crataegus crus-gallii. However, the name of the female parent has been corrected to Crataegus mexicana while the name of the purported male parent has shifted to Crataegus calpodendron. Hawthorn taxonomy is a relatively complicated matter, thanks in part to the fact that apomicts are present (plants reproduce asexually), leading to the possibility of hundreds of microspecies being recognized. Depending on one's approach, one could recognize anywhere from two hundred to one thousand species in the genus.

On the topic of confusion and preferred nomenclature, Richard noted that the beverage in the second photograph was produced from a recipe for "hawthorn schnapps"--but Richard also recognized it was actually a vodka infusion. In Europe, schnapps is a distilled spirit made from fermented fruit, such as apples, pears, or cherries (of note, all of these are in the rose family, like hawthorn). However, schnapps is a term sometimes used for infused vodka products, such as the hawthorn-flavoured vodka in the second photograph. Vodka itself is a distilled spirit, made from different plant sources ranging from grains to potatoes to soybeans. The word schnapps is used yet again to describe a spirit mixed with flavouring and sugar (technically, a liqueur) that can have a lower alcoholic content; this is the popular use of the term in America.


Well, that certainly expanded my schnapps horizons. I only knew Scandinavian Aquavit (flavoured with dill or juniper, which is the case for most Danish schnapps). This Danish Schnapps Recipes page has a recipe for Hawthorn schnapps. They recommend two other species, but say you can use any species.

Herbally speaking, hawthorn is considered to be a strong help for the heart, helping with both high and low blood pressure. I wonder if the schnapps is also a cardiac tonic (I'm sure it's not one for the liver!)? I wouldn't drink it for that, but just curious. How's it taste? Pretty tangy, I bet.

As a producer of this product and supplier of the photographs, I can tell you that the taste is not tangy. It has a smooth fruity taste that masks the sharpness of the alcohol. On the other hand, the fruit is rather insipid tasting - not much sweetness or acidity.

I must have missed Daniel's request for images of this species. There are three beautiful 30 year old specimens here in Vancouver in the garden of a long term residential care facility. Spectacular for their fall and winter interest, but for all the years I worked there I would have to check and remove enormous thorns from the trunks and limbs where they grew in reach of the curious hands of frail elders.

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