Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker - Sloe Fairy

When Blackthorn blossoms leap to sight,
They deck the hedge with starry light,
In early Spring When rough winds blow,
A purple sloe.
And now is Autumn here, and lo,
The Blackthorn bears the purple sloe!
But ah, how much Too sharp these plums,
Until the touch Of Winter comes

 Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker - Sloe Fairy


Blackthorn is a deciduous, much branched shrub, up to 4 m high. It is often found in lowland woodland margins, scrub and hedgerows, on a wide range of soils. It is only absent from extremely acid soils. The short branches which are at right angles to the stem lose their leaves and then persist as thorns. The buds are tiny (<2mm), often in clusters of 3-5 (unlike Hawthorn). The stem is dark to blackish (unlike Hawthorn). The white 5-petalled flowers open in March and April before the leaves which follow in late April.


The fruits, like small plums, become the blue-black 'sloes' which are ripe in September and October. The fruits which are used for sloe gin should not be gathered until the first frosts have reduced their tannin content.


The low-growing thorny bush is an excellent protected site for shy nesting birds such as nightingales. The leaves are the food of the caterpillars of brown and black hairstreak butterflies. It has had many uses and is an ideal tree to cut for walking sticks or tough shillelaghs. Its fruits can be used for making wine or as a flavoring for gin. Sloe gin is made by filling a bottle with sloes, adding some sugar, topping up with gin and leaving for as long as possible before drinking. 

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