How to identify spring blossom
Blossom is one of the most exquisite delights of an English spring. A number of our native woodland and hedgerow trees celebrate the arrival of warm weather with blossom providing food for pollinating insects. Fountains of white or cream blossom seem to appear from nowhere, often accompanied by a delicate fragrance. As you stroll around keep an eye out for the blossom and learn more about the trees.
Blackthorn blossom is one of the first shrubs to burst into flower - a fizzing array of white flowers seen in March, even in snow. The blossom appears before the leaves. The tree is short with smooth dark brown bark and found in hedgerows and scrub in full sun. The straight side shoots develop into sharp thorns and the bush will produce sloes in autumn. The tree can often last up to 100 years and traditionally was used for making walking sticks or shillelaghs in Ireland. For wildlife, the blossom is a vital source of pollen for early bees; birds like the dense brach network for nesting and black and brown hairstreak butterflies use the bush later in spring.
There are many types of willow, but it is the goat or grey willow with the clouds of yellow catkins that stand out in March and April. Get up close to examine the magic of the flowers.
It's often found near damper areas in woodland, or near streams and ditches. The grey-brown bark becomes marked over time by diamond shaped fissures and the twigs glow red-yellow in winter sunlight. A tree can last up to 300 years and its leaves are a favourite food source for caterpillars and the majestic Purple Emperor butterfly. Birds often hunt for insects in these trees. Humans can also benefit - aspirin is made from salacin, found in the bark of the willow tree.
Crab apple is a bit of a loner, growing by itself in hedgerows and scrubland on moist, heavy soil. Its lovely white blossom with a tinge of pink appears in March-April and is sweetly scented. It's a short tree with greyish-brown flecked bark and a gnarled ('crabbed') shape. Moth caterpillars chomp through the leaves, bees love the pollen and blackbirds and thrushes love the crab apples. Any fruit dropped to the ground will be eaten by badgers, voles, mice and foxes. Crab apple trees often indicate human habitation in the past - the apples can be used in cooking, the wood was good for making things and firewood. Yellow dye could be created from the bark.
Wild cherry produces small baubles of white flowers covering the tree in April-May with a confident flourish. It relishes full sun and fertile soil, typically growing singly in hedgerows or woodland edges. The bark is a stunning reddish-brown marked with horizontal 'scars'. Bees love the pollen in the blossom, and the cherries are devoured by song thrush and blackbird. Any fruit falling to the ground is quickly eaten by badgers and mice.
The fragrant pinkish-white flowers appear after April, and so it is also known as May-flower. It is often found in hedgerows, woodland edges and scrubland. It is a veritable supermarket for birds and insects, able to support up to 300 insects, including many caterpillars. Dormice love eating the flowers. In autumn time the bush will produce berries ('haws') which are strong in antioxidants and favoured by visiting birds such as fieldfares, redwings and thrushes, plus mice and voles. Hawthorn wood is hard and very finely grained and in the past was used for making cabinets, boxes and tool handles. It also makes good firewood and charcoal.
The clusters of cream flowers are a sign that summer is upon us. These flowers and autumn fruits are wonderfully fragrant and popular cooked to create traditional cordials and desserts. The berries can also be used to make a dye. It seeds freely and can be found in woodland, scrub and hedgerows. The bark is grey-brown with a corky furrowed texture. Both flowers and berries are eaten by birds and caterpillars. IT is thought that the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon 'aeld' meaning fire, because the hollow stems were used to blow air into the centre of a fire.