My first sighting of Blackthorn blossom for 2021 has happened a bit later than last year – is that because the flowers are later or my lack of attention? I can’t tell but whichever, it’s another sign that spring is on its way!
Despite being caught twice in freezing hail showers, I had a lovely walk today, and part of the reason is because I saw my first Blackthorn blossoms for 2020. As Blackthorn flowers appear before the leaves (in contrast to Hawthorn, where the leaves appear first), this hedge along the roadside at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park still looks lifeless and barren.
In fact, the brown branches and twigs were dotted here and there with white buds and occasional fully open blossoms. Spring is coming!
Being a relative newbie to Britain, I’m still very much a learner when it comes to identifying plants (and everything else, to be honest), so I was pleased recently to learn how to tell Cherry plum blossom from Blackthorn.
It’s partly in the timing – Cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) usually flowers first, apparently – and also in the growth pattern, but a sure-fire way to tell whether the gorgeous blossom you’re puzzling over is this or Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), which flowers soon afterwards, is to look at the back of the flower.
In the Blackthorn the sepals (those leaf-like bits that originally enclose the flower but split apart when the flower opens) lay flat along the backs of the flower petals, or between them when fully open (photos above), whereas in the Cherry plum, the sepals are folded back (photos below).
Primaveral: adjective, meaning of, relating to, or taking place in early spring (as in, for example, the primaveral blossoming of the Cherry plum tree in my photo).
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word appeared in the English language in the early 19th century, having come possibly from the Catalan primavera, the Spanish primavera, the Portuguese primavera, or the Italian primavera, which all mean ‘springtime’. And those words probably came from the Latin prīmum vēr, meaning first or earliest spring.
‘Tis that time of year when everywhere you look there are trees in blossom. The whites and pinks of the various prunus species grace the lawns in Bute and the various other public parks, and line the pathways at Cathays Cemetery. In wilder places, blackthorns are covered in their snow-like blooms, providing a feast for the bees and hoverflies now emerging in huge numbers from their winter hibernation. And, here in Cardiff, magnolias are often used as street trees – I take my hat off to the urban planner who made that decision! – and are currently making a gorgeous spectacle of themselves.
On my daily walks I seem constantly to be smiling at the beauty of the blossom all around me, and I ignore the strange looks of those who appear to think that stopping to admire a tree means I’m a crazy woman. I often think the world would be a better place if more people took the time to drink in the beauty all around them – so, please, if it’s spring where you are, stop, look and love the blossom!