Blackthorn Tree Information
Latin name: Prunus spinosa
Native words: Old Irish (draighean) Scots Gaelic () Old English (slahthorn) Welsh (draenen du) eastern Celtic ()
Ogham sign: St (z)
Height when mature: 6m
Height after 10 years:
Blackthorn botanical description:
The first tree of the year to come into bloom. In February or March depending on the winter, creamy white flowers appear on hedgerows long before any other, and before the leaves. They offset the dark brown winter twigs, well. In a warm spring the leaves will be open by the end of March and are small, toothed and oval in shape. Blackthorn develops very sharp spines which cover the branches, intended to defend it from grazing animals. The bitter fruit, known as sloes are ready to pick in October; they are often covered in a white powdery bloom, which is a yeast fungus. They are green when unripe and black when ripe. Blackthorn suckers strongly from the main tree, and large stands develop forming a dense thicket. Blackthorn is botanically a small plum tree.
Natural History and ancient wisdom of Blackthorn trees:
Originally called ‘sloh’ by the early English, blackthorn The fruit known as sloes are best known for flavouring sloe gin, although drinks made of fermented sloes have been concocted for centuries. The presence of place names associated with the berries, and that the tree was originally named after its berries suggests that they were very important to some communities. In Ireland blackthorns were believed to provide protection against ghosts. There were strong beliefs against cutting it on 11th of May or 11th of November. The hard wood with polished bark are sold for walking sticks, or was once used for the teeth of hay rakes.
Blackthorn place names:
Slaughterford (Wiltshire) ‘ ford by the sloes’ , Slaugham (Sussex) ‘hamlet where sloes grew’
Wildlife rating of Blackthorn trees:
Good. The thick spiny thicket provides a safe nesting site for birds, many of which later feed on the sloes. Singing male Lesser Whitethroats will call from a perch atop Blackthorn before breeding in them. Brown Hairstreak butterfly caterpillars feed on the new shoots. The fruit is taken by birds which drop the seed which lies dormant for 18 months before shooting
Good points/ bad points:
Good for making a hedge to keep cats and other unwanted intruders out; no one gets past it spines! Not growing more than 6m it is suitable for garden hedges and the white flowers in spring are very attractive. It will need a well drained site and will not tolerate heavy shade The sharp spines can cause painful wounds. Shoots may appear from the ground near to the tree from suckers.