Scientific name: Crataegus mexicana
Plant type: Small tree
Environment: Full sun
Bloom: Clusters of small white flowers
Uses: Fruit tree
Mesoamerican Cloud Forest – 29G
Succulent Garden – 50E
Mexican hawthorn (Crataegus mexicana), also known as tejocote, is a small tree native to Mexico and Guatemala with strong cultural ties.
Some research suggests that the species is native to central Mexico and was introduced to southern Mexico and Guatemala by indigenous groups that were forced to move by Spanish colonizers. In its native range it is found in open, disturbed areas or in meadows. It is occasionally found in cloud forest habitats. There it is considered Least Concern in terms of conservation by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List due to its wide distribution and a lack of any major threats.
In Mexico, Crataegus mexicana is known as tejocote. The name tejocote is derived from the Nahuatl word texoctl, meaning stone fruit. Nahuatl is a language spoken by some indigenous groups in central Mexico.
The large yellow fruits of the tree are edible and have various uses in Mexican culture. The fruit is an important symbol of the holiday season and is a key component of a traditional punch known as ponche which is served at Christmastime. Additionally, a candy made from the tejocote fruit and garlands made of the fruit are used to decorate ofrendas on Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, in November. The fruits are also used in traditional medicinal treatments in Mexico for a variety of ailments and illnesses.
The import of tejocote fruit to the United States was illegal until 2015. There had been a ban on the importation of the fruit to protect American agriculture from dangerous insects. Throughout the U.S. it was the most seized fruit by the USDA between 2002 and 2006. The fruit was frequently smuggled into the country for cultural practices such as the making of ponche and for ofrenda decorations.
Mexican hawthorn trees were also not widely grown in the United States, despite being introduced to California in the early twentieth century by the botanist Francesco Franceschi. In order to reduce smuggling of this crop an effort was led by the University of California, Riverside, and the USDA to plant more of this culturally significant species in the United States. This effort, in addition to allowing the legal import of the fruits, has been successful in decreasing smuggling and continuing to protect local agriculture while providing easier access to those in the U.S. looking to purchase tejocote fruit.
Contributors: Text, profile, and photos by Victoria Stewart