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Blackthorn

Prunus spinosa

Trailing cluster of white blossom of the Blackthorn

Each year, Blackthorn heralds the coming of spring as one of the first native trees to burst into blossom.

Blackthorn belongs to the rose family and its fruit are known as sloes – famously used to flavour sloe gin!

Single white blossom of the Blackthorn in bloom, surrounded by buds and bare branches

How to spot it

Blackthorn is a rather shrubby tree with dark-hued branches (hence the name “black” thorn). It produces white, five-petalled blossom in early spring. When these wither, they are replaced with sloes – dark blue-purple fruit, around a centimetre wide. Blackthorn leaves are oval-shaped, serrated and pointed at the tip.

In spring and summer, it can be confused with Hawthorn. Hawthorn blossom, however, appears amidst the leaves, whereas Blackthorn blossoms before they appear.

Where to spot it

Blackthorn is found most commonly in hedgerows but it can also be spotted in scrub and wood borders all over the UK and Ireland.

Things you might not know

  • Kernels of sloes were found in the stomach of Ötzi, the neolithic “iceman” found preserved in the Alps in 1991, suggesting he’d been eating fruit from a Blackthorn shortly before he died.
  • Blackthorn’s wood is traditionally used to make Irish shillelaghs (a type of walking stick that also doubled as a club or cudgel).
  • The Brown Hairstreak butterfly often chooses to lay its eggs on young Blackthorn shoots and it provides food for the caterpillars. The annual flailing of hedgerows (where Blackthorn can usually be found) has been blamed, in part, for the butterfly’s decline as the eggs are removed before they hatch.

Other Species

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Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

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