Nature table: Blackthorn

Blackthorn is a native shrub or small tree which is common and widespread, particularly in hedgerows.

The bark is dark and produces long, straight thorns and the small leaves, an elongated oval in shape, often develop attractive red and gold colours at this time of year. It’s a member of the plum and cherry family and its fruit, small black plums dusted with purple, are called sloes and are already ripening.

Although sloes are very bitter they’re used to make drinks and preserves. The bitterness reduces slightly after the first frosts and, if you want to use them, you can reproduce the effect by putting sloes into a freezer.

It’s probably the best Irish plant for making a strong and stock-proof hedge and it responds well to being trimmed.

Its one disadvantage is a tendency to throw up root suckers in places where they’re not wanted. Its dense timber makes excellent firewood and, of course, was used to make the traditional shillelagh.

Irish blackthorn walking sticks are still available.


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