Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn)
Other Names: Sloe
Description: This species is a large deciduous shrub or very occasionally a small tree. It is abundant in hedgerows and scrubland has a blackish bark and very spiny branches. In early spring the white flowers are produced, just before the leaves. It produces abundant fruits called Sloes and are 12mm wide blue-purple spheres. The species can sucker easily and form dense stands.
Uses: Largely planted both today and in the past to create cattle proof hedges in agriculture. A more modern use is to gather the fruits to make Sloe Gin which is now produce commercially across the country. Blackthorn also makes excellent fire wood producing lots of heat but little smoke. The wood is also used to make walking sticks and tools parts as it is hard-wearing and tough.
Conservation Value: Another species that flowers early in spring that provides valuable nectar after hard winters for bees. There are many moths such as the Lacky and Magpie that feed on the leaves at caterpillars and the Black and Brown Hairstreak butterflies also make use of this species. Birds use the thick, thorny and well protected stands as ideal nesting locations and feast on the many other insects that make use of the bush as well as the many sloes.
Preferred Locations: Chalk, clay, sand and loam soils are all suitable and the species prefers moist but well drained locations fully in the sun.
Size: Rarer Blackthorn trees can grow from 5m to 7m but more usually to around 3m in a hedge or stand with a 2.5m to 4m canopy spread.
Time to reach full height: 20 to 50 years.
Lifespan: Up to 100 years.