This morning on my walk from home in Easton to the Bristol Wireless lab in Bedminster, my eye was caught by blackthorn blossom standing out white against the blue sky.

blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom in Lawford’s Gate, Bristol

Blackthorn (prunus spinosa) derives its name from its thorny nature and its very dark bark.

As its Latin name denotes, it is a member of the plum family. Its fruits – sloes – are well known for their bitterness, unless picked after they’ve been bletted, i.e. attacked by autumn frosts. Their best-known use is for making sloe gin.

photo of sloes

Sloes. Note the thorns. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The modern English word sloe comes from the Old English slāh. The same word is noted in Middle Low German, historically spoken in Lower Saxony. Similar words are found in other languages with Teutonic roots.

With its savage thorns, blackthorn has traditionally been used for making a hedge against cattle or a “cattle-proof” hedge.