Blackthorn
(Prunus spinosa)
Simple
Roundish
Alternate
Toothed
leaves <6cm

leaves

Spineless winter twig
Spineless winter twig

Spiny winter twig
Spiny winter twig

fruits and flowers

 

fruits

Nightingale
Nightingale

Black hairstreak butterfly
Black hairstreak butterfly

distribution map

The leaves are alternate, elliptic and 2-4 cm long. They are finely toothed and somewhat hairy beneath, particularly on the veins. The leaf-stalks are short, less than 10 mm long.

ID check

Blackthorn is a deciduous, much branched shrub, up to 4 m high. It is often found in lowland woodland margins, scrub and hedgerows, on a wide range of soils. It is only absent from extremely acid soils.

The short branches which are at right angles to the stem lose their leaves and then persist as thorns.

The buds are tiny (<2mm), often in clusters of 3-5 (unlike Hawthorn).

The stem is dark to blackish (unlike Hawthorn).

The white 5-petalled flowers open in March and April before the leaves which follow in late April.

The fruits, like small plums, become the blue-black 'sloes' which are ripe in September and October.

Facts

  • The fruits which are used for sloe gin should not be gathered until the first frosts have reduced their tannin content.

  • The low-growing thorny bush is an excellent protected site for shy nesting birds such as nightingales.

  • The leaves are the food of the caterpillars of brown and black hairstreak butterflies.

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