Discover spring blossom
One of the sure signs that spring is underway is the uplifting appearance of blossom on trees and shrubs in hedgerows and gardens heralding the arrival of the brighter, milder spring weather. Blossom is the first stage a plant goes through in the production of fleshy berries and fruits, which encase stones. These will be dispersed by animals, and given the right conditions, they will germinate into new plants the following year.
Like all flowers, blossom is an important part of a plant’s reproductive process. The flowers contain pollen and nectar which attract insects such as bees, butterflies and beetles, as well as small birds and mammals. As these animals drink the nutritious, sugary nectar, the pollen sticks to their bodies and they carry it to the next tree leading to cross pollination.
Blossom in gardens, streets and hedgerows
One of the first wild blossoms you will see in early March is blackthorn; a thorny shrub that develops numerous tight clusters of small, white flowers with pink anthers that contain pollen. The flowers appear before the leaves.
In April, wild cherry trees will come into flower. Wild cherry has clusters of white, cup-shaped flowers with five petals. Bees love the pollen in the blossom, and the cherries are devoured by song thrushes and blackbirds. Any fruit falling to the ground is quickly eaten by badgers and mice. The wild cherry tree is different from the bright pink ornate cherry blossom you often see in parks and gardens. These ornamental cherries are distantly related to the native wild cherry, and most varieties originate in Southeast Asia.
One of the best known spring blossoms is hawthorn, which is also called whitethorn, May-blossom or May-flower. Hawthorn looks very similar to blackthorn but it blooms later in the season, often in late spring as the name implies, however, unlike blackthorn, the flowers of hawthorn bloom after the leaves have appeared. Hawthorn is a rich food source for birds and insects, including many caterpillars. Dormice love eating the flowers. In autumn the bush will produce berries called haws, which are strong in antioxidants and favoured by mice and voles and by visiting birds such as fieldfares, redwings and thrushes.
Crab apple also flowers from mid- to late-spring, with distinctive pink and white blossom. The sweetly scented flowers are pollinated by bees and other insects. The blossom eventually develops into small, yellow-green apple-like fruits around 2–3cm across. The fruits are bitter but they can be used to make a golden-coloured jelly.
Cultivated Apple Blossom
Eating and cooking apples have been grown for thousands of years in Europe, but they probably originate from Central Asia. Several recent genetic studies have demonstrated that the modern apple is a hybrid of at least four wild apple populations, and researchers have hypothesized that the Silk Road trade routes were responsible for bringing these fruits together and for causing their hybridization.
Archaeological remains of apples in the form of preserved seeds have been recovered from ancient sites across Eurasia and Central Asia. Cultivated apples are distant relatives of the native crab apple and the blossoms look fairly similar to their wild relatives.
Like all blossom-bearing trees, the flowers provide a vital source of nectar for many species of insect, including butterflies, bumblebees and honeybees when they emerge from their hives in the spring.
The clusters of cream elderflowers in late-May and early-June are a sign that summer is upon us. These flowers and autumn fruits are wonderfully fragrant and can be used to create traditional cordials and desserts. Both flowers and berries are eaten by birds and caterpillars. It is thought that the term ‘elder’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon 'aeld' meaning fire, because the hollow stems were used to blow air into the centre of a fire.