The flowering of the blackthorn tree is commonly associated, in folklore, with a “blackthorn winter” – a sudden unseasonal spell of cold and wet or snowy weather at the same time as the tree is in blossom. Given the very variable weather we get in an English spring, there is probably an even chance of this saw coming true. Not this year though – we’ve had several days of glorious sunshine and the show of blackthorn blossom has been wonderful.
This native shrub or small tree (Prunus spinosa) has satiny dark blue-black or mahogany bark and vicious spines, and in March and early April is clothed with five-petalled white flowers with pink stamens; sometime so densely clotted on the twigs you can hardly see the bark at all. The buds start off as perfect spheres dotting the twigs, and open up into a glorious froth of bloom. Once the blossom starts browning and falling, the leaf buds begin to open. Today, most bushes are still a vision in white like Miss Havisham, but a few are looking dowdy and starting to green up.
The Japanese celebrate cherry blossom as a thing of wonder, but I think we ought to do the same for the blackthorn. Later in the year, it will reward us with a profusion of mouth-puckeringly sour blue plums – but by golly, do they make a good liqueur! And the birds feast on them too.