Having a Blackthorn Winter?

 

The first trees are beginning to bloom in the Cotswolds; in a few days’ they will be billowing clouds of white blossom.  My father, a countryman through and through, would always mark the occasion by repeating the old English warning of a coming “blackthorn winter” and “the cold blow” ahead.  But was he correct?

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The blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), also commonly known as sloe, is frequently used as a hedging plant where its tangled and viciously thorny branches make an impenetrable, stock-proof barrier.  When left untrimmed it grows into a small tree.blackthorn-blossoms-crowd-an-old-cotswold-green-lane-copyright

I haven’t found a referral to the earliest date for a blackthorn winter but it almost certainly goes back centuries for the blackthorn is a ‘magick’ tree and often used in witchcraft.  But can it really dictate the weather?  Common sense says ‘no’ unless, of course you believe in magick.

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Pretty flowers hide vicious thorns

There appears to be a problem with my father’s and others belief in the blackthorn winter.  The tree that blooms first and so often referred to is not blackthorn but the cherry plum, another Prunus – Prunus cerasifera.  Sometimes known as the Myrobalan Plum, it is also found in hedgerows and when allowed to grow to full height is often covered in red or golden cherry-sized, edible fruits.  It was introduced from southern Europe about three hundred years ago.

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Prunus cerasifera, the Cherry or Myrobalan Plum

So, blackthorn or cherry plum?  For the time being we will be having a “cherry plum winter”.  The sloe will blossom in about three weeks’ time when we will probably have the blackthorn winter too for one thing is proven: in England, we are far more likely to have a spell of wintry weather now than we ever are in December.  Either way, let us hope that it is a good year for both trees for then we can look forward to cherry plum pies washed down with a nice glass of sloe gin.

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Cherry Plums

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Sloe Berries

Footnote:  according to the British Meteorological Office, the term “blackthorn winter” originated in the Thames Valley, the birthplace of my father and where I was brought up.  It will be interesting to know many of you use the term and where in the world you are located.

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4 thoughts on “Having a Blackthorn Winter?

  1. Since I was told about this as a child (over 60 years ago) It has never failed to arrive. Sometimes 2 weeks, sometimes less and sometimes with snow falling in the south of England and (in later years) in Brittany

    • Thanks, Catherine for your comment. It would be interesting to find out just how much truth there is in these old country sayings. I put a lot of store in (some of) them for they must stem from centuries of observation by generations that were far more ‘weather aware’ than us.

  2. I am sure they were more aware it was their living wellbeing and even their calendar and clock no ludicrous armchair weather forecasting. Love your stuff Sir last thought take a look at Romany musing on these matters

  3. Another bite at the Prunus. Much ado about casting clouts and monthsor plant.Iwontrelatea personal observation for me that was irrefutable of its origin.However If it is calendar what consequence the alteration to the calendar 1852.Odd years I have seen Hawthorne in 8/9June.

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