Dustings of snow lie across our hedgerows

At the beginning of the week we woke to white across the ground – it had snowed! The light fall of snow had gone by mid-morning. Yet our hedgerows still look as if they are dusted with snow. Hedgerows often have several different species of plant along their length. You can tell where there is blackthorn as at that point the hedge has dark branches covered with masses of white blossom. Blackthorns are unusual in that they flower before they grow their leaves and, as their name suggests, have dark trunks and branches. The result is that their white blossoms stand out, with no gentle green of leaves to soften the effect. They offer us and insects that depend on them the promise of spring.

Blackthorn is where it looks as if it has snowed, Castle Mound, Burwell
Blackthorn has masses of blossom

Have you stopped to look closer at blackthorns’ blossoms? I was rushing down Green Lane past a hedge covered with flowers, almost oblivious to its beauty because of its familiarity. I stopped for a moment and was overwhelmed by the masses of blossom and the hum of insects delighting in the nectar that they offer.

Blackthorn has vicious thorns

If you are not sure if you are looking at blackthorn, look along the branches and if it is blackthorn you will see vicious thorns – which are actually branches, adapted to protect its leaves from browsers, its fruits from those who would eat them.

Blackthorns offer beauty now. In the autumn they produce deep blue-purple sloes. For birds these provide a serious carbohydrate hit. For gin lovers, they are just what is needed to make homemade sloe gin, ready to provide inner warmth when the snow really comes.

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It has to be May’s wild lavish blossom

May day and each hawthorn tree, bush, bit of hedging is loaded with ‘May’; masses of white, sometimes pinkish, blossom. As if each tree is sending the message: where one would do, here have several thousand instead.

Hawthorn or May has always been seen as a bringer of hope, of the fertility that comes with spring, of purity. So I am revelling in this plant’s beauty now.

There is a tradition too that Christ’s crown of thorns was made from branches of the Hawthorn tree. From this has arisen a reluctance for people to uproot or damage a Hawthorn tree.

Hawthorns lavish blossom is feeding numerous bees, hoverflies and other insect species. Come the autumn, hawthorns are covered in red berries – haws – providing vital food for thrushes, fieldfares, redwings and if we are lucky waxwings, arriving from the continent for the shelter our slightly warmer winters offer.

Hawthorns are easy to identify at the moment, as they are the only trees covered with white blossom. When not in flower, they can be identified by their leaves’ distinctive shape, and habit of curling their sides slightly upwards. Blackthorn is the other common tree or hedge shrub with thorns. Blackthorns leaves are flatter and don’t have a wavy edge.

Yesterday I cycled along Factory Road. With thunder booming from across the Fen, I took a photo of this lone Hawthorn tree. Since, I have learned of the superstition that such lone trees originate from lightning or thunder bolts and give protection from further strikes… these are trees for this May of all Mays…