Prunus spinosa

Family: Rosaceae

Countries: Africa, Albania, Algeria, Asia, Austria, Balearic Islands, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Corsica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, Europe, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Middle East, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Sardegna, Scotland, Sicily, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Wales, Yugoslavia

In the UK, Prunus spinosa is usually known by its common name – Blackthorn.  I am sure that Prunus spinosa has many common names, as this is a widespread plant that can be found growing in the wild across Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa.  Prunus spinosa can be grown as a shrub, a hedge, or a tree.  These plants are very spiny and they often form thickets.  I adore Prunus spinosa, this is a fabulous plant that perfectly lends itself to a country or wildlife garden.

When choosing where to plant Prunus spinosa, avoid shaded sites and waterlogged soils.  Prunus spinosa thrives in a bright and sunny site and these plants will be very happy indeed to grow in almost any moist, well-drained soil.  I’ve seen an example of Prunus spinosa looking a little unhappy on a chalky soil but I usually think of Prunus spinosa as being a strong, robust, and resilient plant.

Prunus spinosa is a deciduous plant that loses its leaves in autumn.  In March and April, when springtime arrives, Prunus spinosa‘s naked stems produce the loveliest and daintiest of blossoms, these flowers are a valuable source of pollen and nectar for insects, particularly for bees.  By autumn, Prunus spinosa’s fruit ripens – small, dark inky-blue coloured fruits, with a delicate bloom – rather like that of blueberries.  Prunus spinosa fruit measure just 1-2cm across – in the UK we call these sloes.  Sloes sweeten after a frost, they’re often used to make sloe gin, jams, and jellies.

This is a tough and robust, long-lived plant that has immense value for wildlife.  The caterpillars of the Black-veined White Butterfly, Black Hairstreak Butterflies, and Brown Hairstreak Butterflies all feed on Prunus spinosa.  Prunus spinosa is also a food plant for the caterpillars of a wide array of moths, including: Blue-bordered Carpet Moth, Brimstone Moth, Brown-tail Moth, Chinese Character Moth, Clouded Silver Moth, Common Emerald Moth, Light Emerald Moth, Little Emerald Moth, Common Footman Moth, December Moth, Early Thorn Moth, Emperor Moth, Feathered Thorn Moth, Grey Dagger Moth, Lackey Moth, Lappet Moth, Leopard Moth, Magpie Moth, March Moth, Old Lady Moth, Orchard Ermine Moth, Pale Eggar Moth, Small Eggar Moth, Pale Tussock Moth, Peppered Moth, Scalloped Oak Moth, Swallow-tailed Moth, and the Yellow-tail Moth.

Thanks to its thorny nature and suckering habit, Prunus spinosa forms an impenetrable barrier, making it a superb hedging plant to securely surround a garden and prevent any unwanted visitors from entering grounds.  This is hardy plant that supports a wide range of wildlife, Prunus spinosa is the perfect choice of plant for a wildlife garden, as a hedging plant, or to mark a boundary.  

Prunus spinosa will grow up to a maximum of 4-5m (13-16.5ft) tall.

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