Blackthorn is one of those wonderful English sights in May when the creamy white flowers bely the absolutely lethal black thorns underneath giving you an impenetrable, stock proof hedge that also looks beautiful - function and aesthetics combined. Brilliant! The best member of our range of hedging plants for doing this. The blackness of the branches and spiny offshoots is softened by the mass of five petalled flowers that are about 1.5 cm wide and which blossom before any leaves appear. Seen against a blue sky on a sunny day it is one of the sights of spring. The leaves, when they arrive, are narrow, oval and about 5 cm long with a slightly serrated margin. In autumn the flowers turn into sloes or drupes that have an irresistible violet bloom over the purply-black berries beneath. The plant itself has a bushy habit, ideal for hedging with stiff, wide-angled branches that soon mesh with their neighbours. It can grow up to 4m tall but is easily clipped back to whatever height you need. Blackthorn can be confused with Prunus cerasifera or the cherry plum, another excellent hedging plant, but the cherry plum has bright white flowers and red/orange fruits.
Blackthorn is second to none in providing really secure hedging against intruders and animals like sheep or goats. It is a good choice for enclosing an allotment because it provides a home for such a diverse range of wildlife and pollinators and also provides you with sloes for gin and vodka in October and November. The leaves are an important food source for butterfly and moth larvae, including the Emperor and Magpie Moths and many species of birds nest in blackthorn including nightingales. To make it a real ecological haven, underplant your hedge with dogs violet, hedge woundwort or deadnettles and don't tidy up too much. The leaves and fallen berries make rich pickings for hedgehogs, insects and small mammals. There is some question about its suitability for cows and horses because they can forage in the hedge and impale their eyes, so to be on the safe side we recommend using hawthorn if you intend to keep horses or cows near to your hedge. Blackthorn is an essential component in some of our hedge mixes like our Bird Friendly hedging and combines well with other native hedging plants like wild crab-apple and dogwood. A little like a good, old-fashioned pick and mix you can make your own selection for a mixed hedge to provide fruit, flowers and protection all year round.
Blackthorn is much prized for hewing into walking sticks; only blackthorn or oak wood may be used to make a real Irish sail eille (shillelagh in English). Once you have cut back any branches or twigs, blackthorn makes for excellent firewood. Prunus spinosa is self-fertile and its fruit (Sloes) are traditionally used for infusing with gin, vodka and brandy, but they also make good jam. In colder parts of the country where frosts come early, you can try leaving ripe Sloes on the branch; a touch of frost will mellow their astringency making them surprisingly sweet.