A small, usually more or less flat-topped tree, with spreading, often horizontal branches; young shoots quite glabrous; thorns rigid, 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, ultimately twice as long, and branched. Leaves obovate, always tapered and without teeth towards the base, the apex toothed, rounded or abruptly pointed; 1 to 4 in. long, 1⁄3 to 11⁄2 in. wide; dark glossy green and perfectly glabrous; stalk 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long. Flowers white, 2⁄3 in. across, produced in June on smooth-stalked corymbs 2 to 3 in. wide; stamens ten, anthers pink; styles usually two. Fruit nearly globose, 1⁄2 in. diameter, deep red.
Native of eastern N. America; introduced in 1691. This beautiful and distinct thorn has much to recommend it. Its habit is striking and picturesque, it blossoms freely, its leaves change to brilliant scarlet in autumn, and its fruits, ripening in October and persisting until spring, make one of the brightest of early winter pictures. The species is, moreover, one of the hardiest and most thriving of its kind.
var. capillata Sarg. – Corymbs and flower-stalks furnished with down or short hairs.
var. pyracanthifolia Ait. – Leaves oblong-lanceolate. Fruit smaller. Such variants are found in the wild state, intermingled with the type.
The following varieties are founded on variations seen in cultivated plants:
var. arbutifolia Bean – Leaves obovate to oval, from 5⁄8 to over 2 in. wide. In their size and to some degree their shape, this variety suggests C. prunifolia (q.v.), but it is quite free from down in all its parts, it has not more than ten stamens, and its fruits remain after the leaves. A handsome variety.
var. linearis DC. – In the entire absence of down from this tree, it would appear to be a true crus-galli form intermediate between arbutifolia and pyracanthifolia.
var. salicifolia Ait. – Leaves narrower than in var. pyracanthifolia, oblanceolate; habit flat-topped.
C. berberifolia Torr. & Gr. – A species related to C. crus-galli but amply distinguished by the downiness of the young parts and the yellow anthers. A native of the southern United States. It has been cultivated at Kew since 1878 and in spite of its southern habitat is quite hardy, although of no particular merit.
C. canbyi Sarg. – A large shrub or small tree to 20 ft high, with a broad, open crown. In foliage it resembles C. crus-galli but the leaves are relatively broader, with their widest diameter near the middle. It also differs in the more lustrous fruit, with bright red flesh.
C. fontanesiana (Spach) Steud. Mespilus fontanesiana Spach; C. olivacea Sarg. – This species, introduced to Europe before 1830, differs from C. crus-galli chiefly in the thinner, yellowish-green leaves.
C. persistens Sarg. – A small tree closely resembling the cockspur thorn and perhaps a hybrid of it; it is not known in the wild state and its origin is uncertain. The leaves remain green well into the winter and the fruits remain long on the tree; it also differs from C. crus-galli in having flowers with twenty stamens. The glabrous undersides of the leaves distinguish it from C. × lavallei.