Blackthorn

Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, is a really lovely plant. You don’t tend to find it in towns, where its suckering tendency (it’s not great in lawns) and all round spinosa-ness make it unpopular, I guess. These characteristics make it a top stock proof hedge plant though, even if the thorns can make it painful to lay. They’re much more painful than Hawthorn spines and will go through any gauntlets, making cuts that often turn septic. Some folk I know don’t like Blackthorn in paddock hedges as they worry its thorns will damage their horses’ eyes.
BlackthornAs it’s part of the Prunus family it’s no surprise that it has fruit. The birds seem to like Blackthorn sloes, and so can we; sloe gin is a liquer, I suppose, rather than a true gin, but none the less tasty for it. The trick is to pick the sloes after they’ve been frosted, by the way.
Blackthorn is a plant rich in mythology, as all these old native species are. It was closely associated with Hawthorn, and both plants were said to have formed the crown of thorns. Witches’ wands were often made of it, apparently, although more practically Blackthorn wood is hard and traditionally used for walking sticks or cudgels. Its clear white blossom, appearing very early, had more positive connotations.
Blackthorn blossom provides a wonderful early forage for bees, which is why I prize it, as it appears nearly as early as the blossom of another (near!) native Prunus, Myrobalan. Beekeepers know that when the Blackthorn blossom is out they can stop worrying about their honeybees starving. It’s a wonderful wildlife plant all round; a safe refuge for birds and small mammals as well, and food plant for Hairstreak butterflies (among other lepidoptera), who lay their eggs on it. If for no other reason, this is why Blackthorn hedges should not be aggressively flailed.
Even in the most favourable conditions, left to its own devices it won’t grow to be a big tree – but I can almost guarantee you will be able to grow it. It’s as tough as old boots and will tolerate almost any soil or position, even half way up a mountain. It’s a shame Blackthorn isn’t planted as often in single species hedges as its better behaved sister, the ubiquitous Hawthorn.