Caught by the River

The Wild Flower Calendar

Mathew Clayton | 22nd March 2013


March – The Blackthorn

Illustration: Greg Stevenson
Words: Mathew Clayton

For most of the year the blackthorn is a craggy, thorny, undistinguished tree except for a few weeks in March when it is covered with surprisingly beautiful, simple and elegant flowers. And this combination of ragged tree and delicate flower (and the fact that I have never seen them in a domestic garden) makes them the perfect choice for our new wild flower column.

Hawthorn blossom appears in great clouds in that uncomfortable period when everyone is pretending that spring is in the air when it really isn’t. The flower has five snow-white petals with a splash of green in the middle, around this floats, like a tiny solar system, a circle of yellow globed stamens. Understated, fragile but not frilly, they look fantastic from distance en masse and also close-up.

They are easy to mistake for the more common hawthorn that flowers a few weeks later. The hawthorn, though, is softer with rounder, fuller petals and a tell-tale pink centre – all a bit Cath Kidson. Another way to tell the difference is the blackthorn flowers before the leaves appear whilst the hawthorn flowers after the leaves appear.

Blackthorns are mainly found in hedges but i prefer them when seen standing alone as single trees – the blossom looking like the unkempt hair of a demented, but once loved, relative. They remind me of long train journeys to the south west, hours spent staring soporifically out of the window across endless fields, the monotony broken by sporadic bursts of blackthorn lighting up the countryside like fireworks, as we speed past.

And finally, remember where you spot them because in October you can return and pick their autumn fruit, the sloe.