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blackthorn fact sheet
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- A deciduous, thorny shrub
- Forms dense thickets by sending up shoots (suckering)
- Often found in hedges
- Can form small trees up to 10m tall
- Smooth bark
Cascades of white flowers which emerge before the leaves and help to distinguish it from hawthorn
Can be confused with the cherry-plum – but only the blackthorn has thorns
The oval blue-black fruits (“sloes”) have a powdery surface bloom and an extremely bitter taste
Common in woodland, scrub and hedgerows
When to look for
Fabulous blackthorn facts
- This is the ancestor of our cultivated plums
- Straight blackthorn stems were traditionally used to make shillelaghs (a club-like weapon) in Ireland
- Blackthorn has around 109 species of insect associated with it
- Blackthorn in bloom is considered a symbol of life and death together as the flowers appear when the stems are bare
- Nightingales favour dense thickets of blackthorn for nesting
- It was believed that to bring blackthorn into the home meant certain death would follow
- In ancient times sloes were buried in straw-lined pits and left for a few months to ripen and make them sweeter. A pit full of sloe stones was found at a Neolithic lake village in Glastonbury
- The spell of bad weather that often coincides with blackthorn flowering is known as a 'blackthorn winter'