As we March into spring many of the valley’s hedges are dusted with white but it isn’t snow, it is the frothy white flowers of Blackthorn.  With its dense branching and vicious thorns, Blackthorn makes an excellent stock proof hedge and there are several miles of it around local fields.

Sometimes there is confusion in spring between Blackthorn flowers and the other common hedging shrub Hawthorn, formerly called Whitethorn in some areas.  Blackthorn flowers open in late February through to early April and the key is that it flowers before the leaves open.  Hawthorn flowers open when it is in full leaf and not until mid-April through to May.  

Botanically, Hawthorn is in the Rose family and Blackthorn is in the Plum and Cherry family.  The thorns are actually small, pointed branches which open out into leafy twigs in their second year.  The autumn fruits or sloes are small and dark purple with a stone in the centre, they are also very sour.  Birds such as Thrushes and Fieldfares enjoy them, people use them to make sloe gin.

It is not only the sloes that play their part in our natural web of biodiversity.  The early flowers are an important source of nectar and pollen for insects that have woken early from hibernation as the February climate warms.  The leaves are the food plant for caterpillars of Brown Hairstreak butterflies and several moths such as the Lackey and Magpie moth.  The dense thorny depths of a Blackthorn hedge provide safe and secure nesting sites for many birds including Yellowhammers and Long-tailed Tits.

If left to grow into a small tree, the bark of Blackthorn is a favourite site for several lichens.  If you walk the footpath from the Salcombe Regis War Memorial down to Griggs Lane, the neglected Blackthorn hedges at the bottom of James Cornish Field are encrusted with several lichens including some very bushy Usnea Beards which Long-tailed Tits will weave into their nests.

If Blackthorn is allowed to grow into a small tree, its poles make superb walking sticks.  A Blackthorn staff and wand were the essential tools of wizards and witches, or so mythology tells us, I will let you decide on that.

Ed Dolphin

SVBG is a not for profit organisation dependant on volunteers, grants and donations.  Without funding we cannot operate and many of our biodiversity projects will cease.

Even the smallest donation can make a difference to wildlife such as the kingfisher on our logo.  

The easiest way to donate a small sum is to click here to Donate

lf you want to give a larger donation, or for a specific project please get in touch via our Contacts page

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *