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Prunus spinosa

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Rosaceae (Rose)
Also in this family:
Acute Leaf-lobed Lady's-mantle, Alpine Cinquefoil, Alpine Lady's-mantle, Ampfield Cotoneaster, Arran Service Tree, Arran Whitebeam, Barren Strawberry, Bastard Agrimony, Bastard Service Tree, Bearberry Cotoneaster, Bird Cherry, Bloody Whitebeam, Bramble, Bristol Whitebeam, Broad-leaved Whitebeam, Broadtooth Lady's-mantle, Bronze Pirri-pirri-bur, Bullace Plum, Bullate Cotoneaster, Burnet Rose, Catacol Whitebeam, Caucasian Lady's-mantle, Cheddar Whitebeam, Cherry Laurel, Cherry Plum, Chinese Photinia, Cloudberry, Clustered Lady's-mantle, Common Agrimony, Common Hawthorn, Common Lady's-mantle, Common Medlar, Common Ninebark, Common Whitebeam, Crab Apple, Creeping Chinese Bramble, Creeping Cinquefoil, Crimean Lady's-mantle, Cultivated Apple, Cultivated Pear, Cut-leaved Blackberry, Damson, Devon Whitebeam, Dewberry, Diel's Cotoneaster, Dog Rose, Doward Whitebeam, Dropwort, Elm-leaved Bramble, English Whitebeam, Entire-leaved Cotoneaster, False Salmonberry, Field Rose, Firethorn, Fodder Burnet, Fragrant Agrimony, Franchet's Cotoneaster, Garden Lady's-mantle, Garden Strawberry, Giant Meadowsweet, Glaucous Dog Rose, Goatsbeard Spiraea, Gough's Rock Whitebeam, Great Burnet, Greengage Plum, Grey-leaved Whitebeam, Hairless Lady's-mantle, Hairy Lady's-mantle, Hautbois Strawberry, Himalayan Blackberry, Himalayan Cotoneaster, Himalayan Whitebeam, Hoary Cinquefoil, Hollyberry Cotoneaster, Hupeh Rowan, Hybrid Cinquefoil, Hybrid Geum, Irish Whitebeam, Japanese Cherry, Japanese Quince, Japanese Rose, Jew's Mallow, Juneberry, Lancaster Whitebeam, Late Cotoneaster, Least Lady's-mantle, Least Whitebeam, Leigh Woods Whitebeam, Ley's Whitebeam, Liljefor's Whitebeam, Littleleaf Cotoneaster, Llangollen Whitebeam, Llanthony Whitebeam, Lleyn Cotoneaster, Loganberry, Many-flowered Rose, Margaret's Whitebeam, Marsh Cinquefoil, Meadowsweet, Midland Hawthorn, Mougeot's Whitebeam, Mountain Ash, Mountain Avens, Mountain Sibbaldia, Moupin's Cotoneaster, No Parking Whitebeam, Ocean Spray, Orange Whitebeam, Pale Bridewort, Pale Lady's-mantle, Parsley Piert, Pirri-pirri-bur, Plymouth Pear, Portuguese Laurel, Purple-flowered Raspberry, Quince, Raspberry, Rock Cinquefoil, Rock Lady's-mantle, Rock Whitebeam, Round-leaved Dog Rose, Round-leaved Whitebeam, Rum Cherry, Russian Cinquefoil, Salad Burnet, Sargent's Rowan, Scannell's Whitebeam, Service Tree, Sharp-toothed Whitebeam, Sherard's Downy Rose, Shining Lady's-mantle, Ship Rock Whitebeam, Short-styled Rose, Shrubby Cinquefoil, Silver Lady's-mantle, Silverweed, Slender Parsley Piert, Slender-spined Bramble, Small-flowered Sweetbriar, Small-leaved Sweetbriar, Soft Downy Rose, Somerset Whitebeam, Sorbaria, Sour Cherry, Southern Downy Rose, Southern Lady's-mantle, Spineless Acaena, Spring Cinquefoil, St. Lucie's Cherry, Steeplebush, Stern's Cotoneaster, Stirton's Whitebeam, Stone Bramble, Sulphur Cinquefoil, Swedish Service Tree, Swedish Whitebeam, Sweet Briar, Symond's Yat Whitebeam, Tengyueh Cotoneaster, Thimbleberry, Thin-leaved Whitebeam, Tibetan Cotoneaster, Tormentil, Trailing Tormentil, Tree Cotoneaster, Trefoil Cinquefoil, Twin-cliffs Whitebeam, Two-spined Acaena, Wall Cotoneaster, Water Avens, Waterer's Cotoneaster, Waxy Lady's-mantle, Welsh Cotoneaster, Welsh Whitebeam, White Burnet, White's Whitebeam, White-stemmed Bramble, Wild Cherry, Wild Pear, Wild Plum, Wild Service Tree, Wild Strawberry, Willmott's Whitebeam, Willow-leaved Bridewort, Willow-leaved Cotoneaster, Wineberry, Wood Avens, Wye Whitebeam, Yellow-flowered Strawberry
Deciduous shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
4 metres tall
Grassland, heathland, hedgerows, meadows, mountains, riverbanks, riversides, roadsides, sand dunes, scrub, sea cliffs, seaside, woodland.

White, 5 petals
The flowers of the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) are dainty and delicate. Each flower consists of five white petals with a slightly rounded tip. These petals form a small, star-shaped blossom that measures around 1 to 1.5 centimetres (0.4 to 0.6 inches) in diameter. The petals may have a faint hint of pink or cream near the base, giving them a soft and subtle appearance. Blackthorn flowers typically appear in early spring before the leaves emerge, creating a beautiful contrast against the bare branches of the shrub. Their sweet fragrance and pristine white colour make them an attractive and vital source of early-season nectar for pollinators like bees and butterflies in the UK's natural landscapes.
The fruit of the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), known as "sloes," are small and dark purple-black in colour. They have a round or oval shape and measure approximately 1 to 1.5 centimetres (0.4 to 0.6 inches) in diameter. Sloes have a distinct, waxy coating that gives them a slightly dusty appearance. They are known for their tart and astringent taste, which makes them unsuitable for eating raw but ideal for culinary uses. These fruits typically ripen in late summer to early autumn in the UK, and they are traditionally used to make Sloe Gin, jams, jellies, and desserts. Despite their initial bitterness, sloes are highly valued for their unique flavour and are an essential ingredient in various traditional British recipes and beverages.
The leaves of the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) are oval in shape with finely serrated edges. They are glossy and vibrant green during the spring and summer, providing a lush backdrop for the plant's white blossoms. These leaves, arranged alternately along the branches, are around 2 to 4 centimeters long. In the autumn, they transition to a yellow hue before falling off, leaving the shrub bare for the winter. Blackthorn leaves are a valuable food source for caterpillars of certain butterfly species and play an important role in the plant's life cycle.
The Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is renowned for its sweet and delicate floral fragrance. When in bloom during early spring, the small white flowers emit a subtle yet alluring scent that fills the air. This fragrance is not overpowering but adds a touch of natural sweetness to the surrounding landscape, attracting early pollinators like bees and butterflies. The Blackthorn's blossoms and their gentle fragrance are a delightful sign of the changing seasons in the UK, marking the arrival of spring's beauty and the promise of new growth.
Other Names:
Sloe, Sloe Plum.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Prunus spinosa, also known as blackthorn or sloe, is a deciduous shrub or small tree that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a member of the Rosaceae family and is closely related to other members of the Prunus genus, such as cherries, plums, and almonds. The plant is known for its spiny branches, small white flowers, and black, plum-like fruit. The fruit, called sloes, are very tart and are not usually eaten raw. They are often used to make jams, jellies, and liqueurs, such as sloe gin. P. spinosa is a tough and hardy plant that is tolerant of poor soils and exposed sites. It is often found growing in hedgerows, wooded areas, and along fence lines. The plant has a number of medicinal properties and has been used traditionally to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive problems and skin irritation.


Blackthorn, also known as Prunus spinosa, is a small deciduous tree that is native to Europe and Asia. The tree is also commonly referred to as Sloe, due to the small, blue fruit that it produces. These fruits are typically picked in the fall, and are used to make a variety of traditional products such as Sloe Gin and Sloe Jelly.

Blackthorn is a hardy and adaptable tree, which makes it ideal for planting in a variety of environments. It is often found growing in hedgerows and on the edges of forests, where it provides valuable habitats for a range of wildlife species. The tree has deep roots, which allow it to thrive in dry and rocky soils, and it is also resistant to damage from cold winds and frost.

One of the most distinctive features of Blackthorn is its long, sharp thorns, which can grow up to 2 inches in length. These thorns are not just a deterrent for predators and herbivores, but also help to protect the tree's branches and provide stability during storms. The tree's leaves are also a key identifier, with a simple, oval shape and a glossy, dark green color.

In addition to its attractive appearance, Blackthorn has a long history of use in traditional medicine. The fruit, leaves, and bark of the tree are believed to have various medicinal properties, including being a natural remedy for digestive problems, coughs, and skin conditions. The tree's bark is also a source of natural dyes, which have been used for centuries to color textiles and cosmetics.

Blackthorn is also a popular choice for use in landscaping and gardening. Its dense growth habit and thorny branches make it ideal for use as a hedge or boundary marker. When pruned properly, the tree can also be shaped into a variety of forms, including topiary, standards, and espaliers. The tree's small, white flowers, which appear in early spring, are an added bonus, and provide a welcome burst of color after the winter months.

In addition to its ornamental value, Blackthorn has an important role in the food chain. The tree's fruit is an important food source for birds and mammals, including the blackbird, thrush, and fox. The tree's nectar and pollen are also an important source of food for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

The tree's wood is also valued for its durability and strength, making it a popular choice for a variety of uses, including walking sticks, tool handles, and firewood. In some parts of the world, the wood is also used for carving and decorative work.

Finally, Blackthorn has a rich cultural history, and is associated with a variety of legends and traditions. In folklore, the tree is often seen as a symbol of protection and warding off evil, and is sometimes planted near homes and sacred sites for this reason. The tree's thorns are also associated with the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus' head before his crucifixion.

Blackthorn is also a key component of many traditional landscapes and rural landscapes. In Europe, it is often used in hedgerows to provide shelter and food for wildlife, as well as to mark property boundaries. In many parts of the world, the tree is also used in the creation of rural hedgerow systems, which are an important source of food and habitat for a wide range of species.

Another unique aspect of Blackthorn is its ability to thrive in difficult growing conditions. The tree is able to grow in poor soil, exposed sites, and areas with high levels of air pollution, making it a valuable species for urban green spaces and areas with limited growing conditions.

In addition, Blackthorn has been the subject of numerous scientific studies, which have aimed to uncover its many benefits and properties. Researchers have studied the tree's ability to absorb pollutants from the air, its role in mitigating climate change, and its potential as a bioenergy crop.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that while Blackthorn is a valuable species, it is also important to be aware of its potential impact on local ecosystems. The tree is considered an invasive species in some parts of the world, where it can outcompete native species and reduce the diversity of plant and animal communities. Therefore, it's important to consider the potential impact of planting Blackthorn, and to choose appropriate locations and management practices to ensure that its positive attributes are maximized while minimizing any negative impacts.

In conclusion, Blackthorn is a unique and valuable species that has a wide range of benefits for both people and the environment. Whether you're interested in its ornamental value, its role in the food chain, its cultural significance, or its potential for scientific research, Blackthorn is a tree that is well worth exploring.

30 Facts About the Blackthorn

Here are 30 facts about the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa):
  1. Botanical Name: Blackthorn is scientifically known as Prunus spinosa.

  2. Fruit Bearing: It produces small, dark purple fruits known as sloes.

  3. Size: Blackthorn is a deciduous shrub or small tree that typically reaches a height of 1 to 4 metres (3 to 13 feet).

  4. Thorns: The plant is characterised by sharp thorns.

  5. Habitat: Blackthorn is native to the UK and is commonly found in hedgerows, woodlands, and scrublands.

  6. Leaves: Its leaves are oval-shaped with serrated edges.

  7. Flowers: Blackthorn produces white, five-petaled flowers in early spring, often before the leaves appear.

  8. Blooming: The flowering of Blackthorn is often considered a sign that spring has arrived.

  9. Fruit Ripening: Sloes ripen in late summer to early autumn.

  10. Sloe Gin: Sloes are used to make traditional Sloe Gin, a popular liqueur in the UK.

  11. Traditional Uses: Blackthorn wood was historically used for making walking sticks and tool handles.

  12. Wildlife: The plant provides habitat and food for various wildlife, including birds and insects.

  13. Hedgerows: Blackthorn is a common component of traditional hedgerows in the UK.

  14. Medicinal Uses: In folk medicine, Blackthorn was used for various ailments, including diarrhea and skin conditions.

  15. Symbolism: In Celtic folklore, Blackthorn is associated with protection and transformation.

  16. Hardiness: It is a hardy plant, capable of withstanding harsh winters.

  17. Flower Fragrance: The flowers have a sweet fragrance that attracts pollinators.

  18. Dyeing: The berries were historically used to create a purple dye.

  19. Traditional Crafts: Blackthorn wood was used in the crafting of musical instruments such as pipes and whistles.

  20. Historical Significance: Blackthorn is often mentioned in historical texts and folklore.

  21. Bushcraft: The branches of Blackthorn are used in bushcraft for making primitive tools.

  22. Edible Sloes: While sloes are quite tart and astringent, they are used in jams, jellies, and desserts when sweetened.

  23. Lore and Legends: Blackthorn has featured in various legends and superstitions.

  24. Hawthorn Confusion: Blackthorn is sometimes mistaken for hawthorn due to similar habitat and white flowers, but they are distinct species.

  25. Drought Tolerance: It can tolerate drought conditions once established.

  26. Natural Hedgerow Regeneration: Blackthorn plays a crucial role in natural hedgerow regeneration by providing a protective barrier.

  27. Insect Attraction: Its flowers attract early pollinators like bees and butterflies.

  28. Pruning: Blackthorn can be pruned to maintain hedgerows and for better fruit production.

  29. Blackthorn Wine: Besides Sloe Gin, Blackthorn berries can be used to make wine.

  30. Conservation Value: Blackthorn is considered an important plant for biodiversity and conservation efforts in the UK.


Video 1: Blackthorn filmed at Coppull, Lancashire (UK), on the 8th April 2022.


Video 2: Blackthorn filmed at the following locations at different times of the year:
  • Chorley, Lancashire: 24th March 2023
  • Capernwray, Lancashire: 8th July 2023
  • Adlington, Lancashire: 23rd August 2023

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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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