They may be called ‘the darling buds of May, but the Cornish climate means Blackthorn flowers, appearing in glorious masses in the hedgerows, are usually finished here well before May arrives. 
Photo: Steve Townsend

Latin name: Prunus spinosa

Cornish name: Dreyn, drannack or yrynen

Other names: Sloe, Slon-tree, Snag-bush

BlackthornBlackthorn is not of course unique to The Lizard, and can be found across the country. But the richness of the Cornish hedges here, in which Blackthorn and the closely-related Hawthorn are commonly found, means that the spring blossom of this tree makes for a wonderful sight in early Spring, appearing as early as March (and in Cornwall is not unknown in February, in warmer years). This early flowering yields nectar for any invertebrates that are out and about early in the year.

A deciduous member of the Rose (Rosaceae) family, and in the same genus as Almond, Cherry and Plum trees, its flowers appear before its leaves (one of the ways of distinguishing it from Hawthorn, on which the leaves appear first). Its long sharp thorns (up to 8 cm), which make it excellent for keeping things either in or out, mean it is commonly used in hedges, and its propensity to form thickets makes it a favourite nesting tree for some birds.

Its fruit – the sloes – are collected in the Autumn to make Sloe Gin, if the birds, which also love them, haven’t got there first.

Did you know…?

…the hard wood of Blackthorn means that it has often been used to make walking sticks. In Ireland, it is used to make shillelaghs!
…it is probably one of the ancestor trees of domesticated plum trees

More information and references:

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Published: May 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Steve Townsend