Prunus spinosa (or sometimes communis)- perhaps better known as 'sloe' bushes. These spiney shrubs flower before leaves appear in March or April. In this respect, Blackthorn differs from the Whitethorn (or Hawthorn).
In the aututmn, the shrubs are obviously different with sloe producing a small dark fruit like a small damson or plum, with a distinctive 'bloom' of wild yeast on the skin [shown right]. Hawthorn on the other hand displays sprays of small red fruits in clusters.
The raw fruits are (to most palettes) unpleasantly bitter - prompting speculation that the large piles of sloe stones found near ancient settlements indicated our ancestors had stronger stomachs than ours. It is also possible they processed them for the strong reddish/purple dye obtained from their skins.
Burns described its place in the season in his lament to Mary Queen of Scots:
Now blooms the lily by the bank,
The primrose down the brae;
The hawthorn's budding in the glen,
And Milk-white is the slae.
Honeybees flock to the flowers on warm days in spring, collecting both nectar and pollen. The flowers emit a powerful scent.
The fruits of the Blackthorn (sloes) are commonly used to make sloe gin.