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16 October 2014
Gardener's Corner

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Autumn 2003
 
Terrific Trees

Prunus spinosa
(Blackthorn)

Blackthorn blossomPrunus spinosa, better known as Blackthorn, is a deciduous, thorny shrub. While commonly found in hedges and woods, this species, according to the Woodland Trust, is definitely one for the garden.

Picture courtesy of WTPL/Peter Paice from Belfast.




Blackthorn generally won’t grow more than six metres tall, making it suitable for most gardens, including those where space is precious. Like hawthorn, it is often used to form a dense, protective hedge; providing wonderful nesting for garden birds and acting as a deterrent for any unwelcome visitors (whether pets, livestock or the human variety!).

March and April bring cascades of tiny white flowers. The white Blackthorn Bushclusters, which contrast with the dark bark, are dense and temporarily seem to paint whole hedges white. The flowers make their appearance before the oval-shaped leaves (one way to help distinguish blackthorn from hawthorn!).

Picture (right) courtesy of www.moorhen.demon.co.uk

In autumn the fruits or sloes develop, usually ripening in October. The sloes are a dark blue-black colour and resemble tiny plums. While pretty in appearance, the sloes apparently taste sour and, as such, aren’t likely to be eaten directly by humans (but are, of course, often used for wine making or gin flavouring). Thankfully, birds don’t seem to have a problem with the sour taste and will happily make a meal of the sloes.

Blackthorn fruitsPlant your young blackthorn between November and March, and in a well-drained site. This shrub prefers a sunny position and won’t tolerate total shade.

Picture (left) courtesy of WTPL.

Blackthorn is a wonderful addition to any wildlife garden. Whether as an individual shrub, or part of a hedge, you’ll be rewarded with dazzling displays of spring flowers and pretty autumn fruits.

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