Sloe progress to cheer up the mistle thrushBy Adrian Lawson
March 13, 2009
One of the things that grows happily in Reading and many places besides is blackthorn. It is a bit of a problem much of the time.
It forms dense impenetrable thickets which spread by new shoots sprouting from the root system. It will happily creep under fences or spread out into grassland, so unless it is vigorously controlled it can get out of hand.
Vigorously controlling it is hard because it is very, very spiky, and the thorns mean business.
Cutting it involves getting punctured skin and blackthorn thorns often leave a little bit in the skin, which can easily become infected.
Worse still it often grows in neglected spots in the corners of park and open spaces and litter seems to accumulate there, and it can be almost impossible to get at it.
The average council litter picker isn’t going to crawl into a blackthorn thicket to retrieve a discarded plastic bag, so there it will remain for years and years.
Once it sheds its leaves, which it does quite early in the winter, it becomes a dark and brooding feature, with little going for it at all.
It also takes ages in spring for the leaves to come out, so it is a long time an eyesore.
Until the spring, then, as if by magic, the shoots burst with white flowers, before the leaves emerge, and a brooding dark mass becomes a glorious white one, with a faint scent of musk. There can be few things that change so dramatically.
One moment the blackthorn thicket is an eyesore and the next it looks like something from the Garden of Eden.
Better still it attracts countless insects on a warm day looking for nectar, so the thicket buzzes with life as soon as the sun comes out.
And if that is still not enough birds love the impenetrable branches as a great place to nest, so there will often be a bird or two in most thickets singing, and as the season progresses the variety of birds will increase as the population is swelled by migrants flown up from the south.
There are blackthorn thickets around Reading that by May are filled with song thrushes, blackcaps, whitethroats and many more songbirds, by which time they will be nesting in the shade of soft velvety green leaves, and in winter there may well be a good crop of sloes, which, among other things, are popular with mistle thrushes.