Blackthorn - Prunus spinosa

Berries are such healthy foods and they offer a host of health benefits. The Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is a berry-producing tree or shrub and native to Great Britain.

The Blackthorn is a species of flowering plant in the rose family and apart from Britain it is also native to Europe, Northwest Africa and western Asia. It’s an ancient tree and has been found in archaeological sites dating back to the Mesolithic and Iron Age periods. This leads us to the conclusion that the Blackthorn berry formed part of the diet of early man.


A Useful Berry-Tree

The Blackthorn is a thorny shrub and you’ll find it common as a hedging plant. It grows naturally in woodlands and wild areas.

  • If you’re a hiker spending a night outdoors, the Blackthorn makes excellent firewood because it burns slowly and doesn’t produce much smoke.
  • Straight Blackthorn stems have always been made into walking sticks and the sticks are also carried by the Royal Irish Regiment.
  • The sloe berries are a bitter tonic, stimulating the metabolism and cleaning the blood. It also helps with eczema, allergies, a weak heart and with prostate problems. Both the fruit and leaves of the Blackthorn have tannins and organic acids and when you put them in boiling water, they also have diuretic properties.


Stripped of Its Beauty for a Season

Before the leaves and berries make their appearance, the Blackthorn produces small white blossoms. The leaves turn yellow in autumn and fall off in winter and all that is left is the stark black branches. The bark of the shrub/tree is rough and scaly. The tree also bears long, sharp thorns.

The Blackthorn is hermaphrodite which means that both male and female reproductive parts are found in one flower.

The fruit of the Blackthorn can’t be described as delicious really as it is astringent and therefore more commonly cooked. The fruit is often used in conserves and syrups as well as a flavouring for some liqueurs. It is a leading ingredient in Britain’s Sloe Gin or Sloe Vodka.

The fruit is known as sloes and is about 15mm in diameter and has one large seed. While birds are attracted to the berries, they don’t come as recommended for eating. The reason for this is that they contain hydrogen cyanide, which can have a toxic effect if consumed in bigger doses.

Many insects and wild creatures depend on the nectar of the Blackthorn for nourishment.


The Appearance of The Blackthorn

The Blackthorn is a thickly branched tree. With the right conditions the Blackthorn tree can grow to a height of 7m.

The bark of the tree is dark brown, but it turns black as the tree ages. The twigs develop into thorns. The oval-shaped leaves grow to about 4cm in length and are pointed at the top and serrated on the edges.

There are some people who say they wouldn’t put a Blackthorn in their garden because they sucker badly, and you have to be constantly cutting them back. However, many people love them in the garden because of the beautiful flowers in early spring.

If you’ve got a Blackthorn that has grown out of hand, and you don’t have the tools to cut it back, at Surrey Tree Services, we deal with difficult trees and shrubs every day.

As tree specialists operating in Surrey and surrounding areas, there is nothing we don’t know about trees and shrubs. With all our team members holding relevant NPTC qualifications, we’ve got all the know-how on how to trim your plants, trees and shrubs. We guarantee total customer satisfaction as tree surgeons and landscape designers.


Growing Blackthorn:

  • There are many who like to use the Blackthorn as a hedge as it can become impenetrable and be a deterrent for stray animals. If you opt to create a hedge from Blackthorn, plant the young shrubs at a 45° angle in 3 rows laid in opposite directions.
  • Grow your Blackthorn in a sunny sport or in partial shade.
  • You can grow your Prunus spinosa from seed or suckers planted in the spring.
  • The Blackthorn isn’t fussy and will grow in all kinds of soil although they prefer the soil to be moist but well-draining. They’re able to grow in alkaline soils too.
  • Caring for the Blackthorn is easy as it requires virtually no care after it has settled in nicely.
  • The 1st year it should be properly watered to get itself established.
  • You can fertilise after the first year, particularly if the soil is poor.
  • If your Blackthorn becomes invasive you may want to prune it. Don’t cut back after its blooming time as you won’t get any fruit. Wait for Autumn to cut it back and remove suckers that sprout from the base.


The Prunus spinosa is a useful shrub, attracting wildlife and pollinating insects. For centuries people have grown this legendary old beauty and when you see its beautiful blossoms, it’s a promise of things to come.

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