Wild Flower of the Week
Blackthorn Prunus spinosa is now distinctive with white flowers against black branches that do not yet have leaves. The plant typically suckers to form thorny thickets. The Cherry Plum or Myrobalan Prunus cerasifera starts to flower even earlier but has some leaves on greener twigs. It is often used in hedges and a purple leaved form is common in gardens.
Later in the year Blackthorn carries purple fruit which give its alternative name of Sloe. Sloe gin is traditionally made from fruit picked in autumn after the first frost. Each berry is pricked -traditionally with a thorn from the bush- and a jar is filled half way with the berries. Gin is added along with sugar and further flavour comes from cloves or cinnamon. A well-known brand of cider is named after Blackthorn but made from apples. Cherry Plum fruits are red. Blackthorn is also traditionally used for making walking sticks.
Male Hazel Corylus avellana catkins or lambs’ tails are prominent as the bushes are not yet in leaf. The smaller female catkins become nuts after being pollinated by the wind. Hazel was traditionally cut over or coppiced to produce rods. The flexible wood could be formed into spars, stakes, hurdles, furniture as well as firewood. Hazel nuts attract many form of wildlife notably squirrels. Cultivated forms of hazel were selected for their nuts or cobs though some are hybrids with the closely related filbert.
Hazel was supposed to protect against evil spirits and water-diviners use it for their wands. In medieval times it was a symbol of fertility. ‘Harry Lauder’s walking stick’ is a hazel with twisted stems said to be due to a virus. First found in a hedge in Victorian times the first garden plant came from a cutting planted in what E A Bowles called the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ at his well-known garden at Myddelton House, Middlesex.