Spring has finally sprung and at last we can enjoy a revitalising walk and spend time outdoors without getting bogged down in mud or suffering frost bite. We can even go camping. Joy! With spring comes many treats, not least the glorious spring blossom that’s starting to surround us and delight our visual and olfactory senses.
No doubt you share our enthusiasm for wild-blooming Britain, but can you tell your blackthorn from your hawthorn, your cherry from your crab apple, or your rowan from your horse chestnut blossom? If you’ve not yet honed your blossom spotting skills, and you’d like to learn more about the folklore behind the flowers, read on…
Blossoming trees and hedgerows are one of the most inspirational sights of spring. It’s great to be able to identify all the different blooms, but even more so, it’s intriguing to learn more about the folklore behind them. So, without further ado, let’s get started on our spring blossom 101.
1. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
Also known as sloe, blackthorn blossom is one of the earlier blooming hedgerows, bringing early joy as its lovely white flowers start to appear around March to April.
Because blackthorn flowers are densely clustered, the hedgerows that are adorned by this blossom almost look like they’re covered in snow. In fact, blackthorn will often bloom whilst the colder days of spring are still in play, which is how the term ‘blackthorn winter’ came about.
Blackthorn has long been associated with witchcraft, and it is reckoned that witches’ wands were crafted from blackthorn wood. The wood is also used widely to craft walking sticks, thanks to its robustness.
2. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Also known as mayflower, quickthorn and whitethorn, hawthorn blossom starts to adorn our hedgerows from early May with its white or sometimes pale pink clustered blooms. To tell hawthorn apart from blackthorn, go by the leaves. Blackthorn blooms before its leaves unfurl, whereas hawthorn flowers come out after the leaves appear.
Hawthorn has been used to create boundaries since Roman times, and is bathed in folklore and superstition. In Ireland, hawthorn trees are said to be the trysting places of fairies. And the age-old saying, ‘Never cast the clout until May’s out’ is actually associated with the hawthorn tree, rather than the month of May, as so many wrongly assume. It literally means, don’t pack away your winter attire until the mayflower has been and gone. Wise advice.
3. Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)
Crab apple blossom tends to start appearing in May, although a warmer spring can entice it out earlier. The pink-tinged flowers are incredibly sweetly-scented, so you’ll find this blossom is well on the radar of buzzing pollinators.
Crab apple was much valued by druids because it was the host of magical mistletoe. Ageing, wild trees that produce good fruit would once have been considered a rich community resource, sometimes even subject to the ritual of wassailing.
4. Goat willow (Salix caprea)
Also known as sallow or pussy willow, the blossom of this tree comes in the form of charming, fluffy yellow catkins on male trees, and spiky green catkins on female trees. A favourite amongst goats, hence the name goat willow, these blooms really do bring countryside views to life in March to April.
Gathering goat willow twigs on Palm Sunday is an old country tradition, and willow bark infusions were used throughout history as a remedy for aches and pains, thanks to the presence of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.
5. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
Otherwise referred to as mountain ash, the rowan tree delights throughout spring and summer, with its stunning, densely clustered creamy white flowers appearing around April to May, followed by scarlet red berries in the summer.
Each flower is formed of five petals, arranged in flat clusters, creating a spectacular effect. The scent is very distinctive too, and a magnet for bees.
There aren’t many native trees are so deeply connected with folklore. Flowering rowans were planted next to cottage doors on May Day to prevent visits by witches, whilst crosses crafted from rowan twigs were hung over doors on the Isle of Man. Scottish shepherds would drive their flocks through a circle of rowans to protect them from spells.
6. Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
The flowers of the horse chestnut tree appear in May. Referred to as ‘candles’ because of their dome-like appearance, these blooms take the form of very striking pink and white blossom.
Unfortunately, this tree doesn’t have too much interesting folklore associated with it, as it is a relative newcomer to the UK. When it was first introduced, it grew on the estates of the rich and later in churchyards. Of course, the most famous element of a horse chestnut is the conker, but once you’ve seen the blossom for yourself, you may change your mind.
7. Wild cherry (Prunus avium)
Wild cherry trees begin to bloom in April. Their mass of white, frothy flowers really do bring a smile to the face as you know that once the cherry has bloomed, warmer days are on their way.
Wild cherry folklore is connected with the cuckoo. It is said that this bird cannot stop singing until it has eaten three good meals of cherries. In Scotland, the wild cherry is known as ‘gean’, which is believed to have been come from ‘guigne’, a French word for cherry.
In years gone by, the resin that leaks from the trunk of the cherry tree was recorded as a cough treatment, and was often dissolved in wine as a treatment for gall stones and kidney stones.
Out and about on the blossom trail? Kit yourself out at Outhaus.
If you’re off on an outdoor adventure soon, enjoy that wonderful spring blossom. And don’t forget to kit yourself out for every eventuality courtesy of the Outhaus store.