Woodland Trust

Nature's CalendarNature Detectives

Ne'er cast a clout till May is out - remember to record your sightings of hawthorn first flowering

blackthornBlackthorn. Shaun Nixon

Prunus spinosa

Facts

Why not download our blackthorn fact sheet?

blackthorn fact sheet

Or have a go at making Sloe Gin!

 free hedgerow tipples pack

  • Sloes. Pete HolmesA 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

Where found

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'